Who's funding Florida's fight over medical marijuana?

Andy Dubbin and Ted Hesson
Andy Dubbin/Fusion

Florida voters will have the chance to legalize marijuana for medical use through a ballot initiative this November. If the measure passes in the state, the fourth-largest by population, it will go a long way toward normalization of the drug nationally.

A clear majority of Florida voters back legalizing medical pot — 88 percent, according to a recent poll — so it's no surprise that People United for Medical Marijuana, a grassroots campaign, has attracted more than $2.5 million in donations to date.


But the initiative is facing some significant opposition. The Drug Free Florida Committee has raised more than $3.1 million with the hopes of defeating the measure. If it passes, Florida would join 23 states and the District of Columbia in permitting pot for medical purposes.

Here are the biggest money players in Florida's battle over medical marijuana, according to the most recent reports by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a non-profit organization that monitors the influence of special-interest groups in politics.



Sheldon Adelson: $2,500,000


Can one man keep marijuana illegal in Florida? Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate, is going to try. Adelson cut a $2.5 million check to the anti-medical pot effort in June, giving weight to a movement that would have been otherwise tepid.

Carol Jenkins Barnett Family Trust: $540,000


The family trust of Carol Jenkins Barnett, the CEO of Florida-based Publix Super Markets, has given half a million dollars to defeat the measure. She's the daughter of the company's founder and the biggest individual shareholder, according to Forbes.

Mel Sembler: $100,000


It's no surprise to find Sembler on the list of donors against the initiative. The former U.S. ambassador and his wife once ran a controversial network of drug treatment centers that closed in the early 1990s. He's fought against state-level marijuana legalization across the country, as well.

Alfred Hoffman: $25,000


The top three donors to Drug Free Florida are responsible for 98.5 percent of the money the committee has raised, but Alfred Hoffman, a former U.S. ambassador to Portugal, has given $25,000. Portugal has some of the world's most progressive drug policies, but that apparently didn't impress Hoffman during his time there. "I am not sure that decriminalization has worked in Portugal, and I don't think it would work in America," he said in 2007.

Neal Communities of Southwest Florida: $10,000


Pat Neal is a former member of the Florida Legislature who runs a successful real estate business. He's also against the ballot measure to legalize pot, saying that it's too vague and will lead to "de-facto full legalization of marijuana."


Morgan & Morgan: $990,532


"The bombastic, omnipresent lawyer fueling Florida's 2014 election" is how the Tampa Bay Times described Orlando attorney John Morgan, whose law firm has donated nearly a million dollars to the medical marijuana campaign in Florida. Not only is Morgan at the forefront of the cannabis ballot initiative, he's also an advisor to former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a one-time Republican who has switched to the Democratic Party in hopes of winning back his old job.

Morgan says marijuana helped his paralyzed brother deal with pain. "If my brother didn't use marijuana, he'd be taking Xanax and Percocet all day long," Morgan told the Tampa Bay Times in 2013.


Barbara Stiefel: $280,000


Barbara Stiefel — heir to a fortune amassed from medicated soaps and skin-care products — is reportedly worth $120 million. She hasn't been afraid to invest it, giving a million dollars to President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012, and spreading money around a number of Democratic causes. "I am a philanthropist and activist, and this cause provides safe relief to millions of patients,'' she told the Tampa Bay Times via email.

Henry Van Ameringen $100,000


Henry Van Ameringen is another heir and philanthropist; his family founded one of the world's largest flavor and fragrance companies, International Flavors & Fragrances. He's donated to marijuana legalization efforts across the country, but has also given funds to advance the cause of gay rights and HIV/AIDS health initiatives, citing his own experience and concerns as a gay man.

Center for Policy Reform (Drug Policy Action): $80,000


Drug Policy Action is the lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, one of the most prominent drug reform organizations in the country. Florida is a priority for them, according to executive director Ethan Nadelmann. "This election is particularly significant because it would be the first state in the South to legalize medical marijuana…and because it's a bellwether state in American politics."

Int. Sports Managing: $75,000


Not much information is publicly available about this Miami-based company, but its founders, Lidio Dominguez and Noel Alamo, are tied to several now-defunct business ventures in the state, including a medical center.

Ben Pollara, the director of United for Care, the lead campaign funded by the pro-medical marijuana movement in Florida, said that campaign policy does not allow the release of donor information without consent.


Donor comics by Fusion's Andy Dubbin

Andy is a graphics editor and cartoonist at Fusion.

Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.

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