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Florida’s Legalization Campaign Has Raised More Money Than Any Marijuana Ballot Measure In History



It has raised more than any other marijuana-related ballot measure committee in a single election cycle ever and is the most-funded measure of 2024.

By Noah Kolenda, OpenSecrets

Florida is on its fifth try to legalize recreational marijuana with a ballot initiative, and more money is pouring into supporting the measure than any other like it that came before.

If it passes the 60 percent supermajority required by the state to ratify ballot measures, Florida would join 16 other states and territories that have legalized recreational marijuana by ballot measure.

Smart & Safe Florida, the ballot measure committee behind Florida’s latest push to legalize recreational marijuana, broke new fundraising records, according to June 10 campaign filings. It has raised more than any other marijuana-related ballot measure committee in a single election cycle ever and is the most-funded measure of 2024.

Smart & Safe Florida has raised over $40 million with the election still about five months away. That means the committee has officially surpassed fundraising by California’s Proposition 64, which previously held the record for most-funded recreational marijuana legalization ballot measure. Eight committees supporting the California proposition raised a combined $36.7 million during the 2016 cycle.

Jeanne Hanna, director of research at the Center for Political Accountability, told OpenSecrets medical marijuana companies may be donating to this ballot measure in lieu of other political spending because of potential risks and pitfalls that come with them.

“It’s not a terribly common type in the grand scope of corporations getting involved in politics with their money,” Hanna said regarding ballot measure spending. “But when they do attract money, they tend to attract a lot. I think it’s an area in which companies may think there aren’t extensive negative consequences because they’re not supporting a candidate who may support a wide variety of issues.”

Smart & Safe Florida raising more than any other ballot measure this year, or of its kind, are not its only historic totals. Another set of records was broken by Trulieve, a medical cannabis company with 200 locations nationwide, 137 of which are in Florida. The company’s March donation of $8.25 million to Smart & Safe Florida broke records for the largest single donation and surpassed the next largest cumulative donation from a single donor to any recreational marijuana legalization measure in the U.S.

Trulieve’s contributions to Smart & Safe Florida total over $34 million this election cycle as of June 10, nearly five times the next largest cumulative donations for a measure of this kind. The company also put up an additional $20 million prior to the reporting dates of this election cycle, setting its total spend on this measure at over $54 million. Its donations make up over 85 percent of the funding for the committee.

Both Smart & Safe Florida and Trulieve did not respond to repeated requests from OpenSecrets for comment.

Robin Goldstein, director of the Cannabis Economics Group at UC Davis, told OpenSecrets that it is hard to see why Trulieve would make such an investment when it has been difficult for recreational retailers in legal states to make money.

“I think a lot of investors or analysts will tell you that there’s so much money to be made, ‘it’s the green rush.’ A lot of them are not being realistic,” Goldstein said. “The more you have the legal market opening up, the more competition you have and also the more technology, scale and efficiency goes into production and people are able to produce it more and more cheaply.”

Medical dispensaries like Trulieve would have a head start on newcomers looking to open recreational-first dispensaries. The measure language would allow existing medical marijuana treatment centers (MMTC) to “acquire, cultivate, process, manufacture, sell, and distribute such products and accessories” related to marijuana recreationally without needing to be granted a new license. That is if the measure is adopted and the outcome or mechanics weren’t challenged in court, where two of the first four measure attempts failed before they could get this far.

Not all of Florida’s earlier attempts to legalize recreational marijuana perished in court. In 2018, efforts to get the issue on the ballot were unsuccessful because the supporting committee fell short of the required 766,000 signatures needed at the time for the measure to appear on the ballot. The 2020 try met a similar fate when the committee behind the measure decided to table it because they wouldn’t be able to verify their collected signatures by the state deadline.

The Florida Supreme Court came into play in 2022 when it struck down two more attempts because the measures’ summary language was deemed “misleading.” But the current measure has the green light to be on the ballot in November after meeting the requisite number of signatures and was approved by the Florida Supreme Court.

Another hurdle to the ballot measure’s passage is that Floridas’ constitution requires a 60 percent supermajority of the voters to vote yes for a measure to pass. Only Colorado, Illinois and New Hampshire require a measure to pass with more than essentially a 50 percent standard majority. This rule has hampered marijuana in the state before.

Florida failed to pass a measure to legalize full-strength medical marijuana the first time it was on the ballot in 2014 because it only received a 57 percent yes vote, insufficient to pass under the supermajority rule. That measure would have expanded the limited medical marijuana initially legalized by the state legislature earlier that year, known as the Compassionate Use Act.

Expanded medical marijuana that would allow more conditions to be treated with a wider range of doses and product categories was ultimately passed in Florida by ballot measure in 2016, where it received more than 71 percent of votes in favor.

A Fox News poll conducted at the beginning of June indicates the new measure has the support it needs. Of the more than 1,000 participants polled, 66 percent said they would vote in support of the legalization.

Though no oppositional fundraising was reported in the most recent June 10 filings, that is likely to change soon with the organization of the Florida Freedom Fund. Created by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), the Florida Freedom Fund looks to challenge both the measure to legalize marijuana and the measure that would codify the right to an abortion in the state. DeSantis has been publicly critical of both measures, calling them too “radical” and “extreme.” The Florida Republican Party has also been vocal about its opposition to both measures.

“Floridians are confident that their legislature has been passing laws that reflect the priorities of our state. Amendments 3 and 4 are unnecessary attempts by an increasingly shrinking minority who know the only way to win support for their radical agenda is to confuse and mislead the electorate,” Florida GOP Chairman Evan Power said in a statement.

In terms of what this could mean for future ballot measures to legalize recreational marijuana in other states, Goldstein said he thinks the money flowing into supporting the ballot measure in Florida will remain an outlier as the possibility of federal legalization looms.

“Once you legalize federally, then whoever’s growing weed or manufacturing vapes or whatever in Florida, they’re gonna have to compete against all of the companies that are making weed really cheaply in Wyoming or wherever it can be made the most cheaply in America, and that’s probably not Florida,” Goldstein said. “Florida is not a particularly cheap place to do business. It’s also not a particularly good climate to grow outdoor weed, which is the cheapest way to grow it at large scale.”

Florida is not the only state in the country after recreational marijuana. South Dakota’s Secretary of State approved a similar measure by the committee South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws on June 3. No fundraising totals have been reported by the committee, and the next reporting deadline isn’t until two weeks prior to the election.

Money has continued to flow into the fight over legalization in Florida and the final total may be even greater. In the two months between the last two reporting deadlines, Smart & Safe Florida raised nearly an additional $8 million. With more than four months until voters decide, there’s still time for the measure to raise even more.

This story was produced in partnership with OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that tracks money in politics. Noah Kendola is a reporting intern at OpenSecrets. They can be reached at [email protected].

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