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The Money Behind Medical Marijuana Looks Like 2014 – Déjà Vu

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Abe Aboraya/WMFE
The Florida Channel
John Morgan holds a press conference about medical marijuana the day after amendment 2 failed to pass. United For Care's 2016 amendment was scheduled for oral arguments Tuesday.

Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson this month donated $1 million dollars to the campaign against Florida’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment, and the first ad buys have begun.

Looking at the campaign finances, Drug Free Florida committee now has about five times as much money on hand as United For Care. With two months left until the election, United for Care has about $450,000 on hand, while Drug Free Florida has about $2.5 million.

United for Care has gotten more than 3,000 contributions from individuals and corporations this year, but the vast majority – about 2,800 – are $100 or less. Drug Free Florida, on the other hand, has only gotten 21 donations in 2016 – but the average donation is more than $136,000.

And while John Morgan may be the public face of the medical marijuana campaign, Barbara Steifel has given the campaign $50,000 dollars more than John Morgan this year. Stiefel is the fifth generation heiress to Steifel Laboratories.

For Drug Free Florida, casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson made a $1 million dollar donation this month. Other big name donors include Mel Sembler, former US ambassador to Italy, and the Publix heiress Carol Jenkins Barnett’s Family Trust.

UCF Political Science Professor Aubrey Jewett saidthe question will now be if Amendment 2 backers learned from their loss two years ago. In 2014, medical marijuana had high support in the polls ahead of the election, but an effective, well-funded and targeted no campaign knocked the vote down to 57.6 percent, shy of the 60 percent needed to amend the Florida constitution.

“This is really shaping up to be a battle as it was before,” Jewett said. “Déjà vu? Haven’t we been here before?”

Abe Aboraya is a reporter with WMFE in Orlando. WMFE is a partner with Health News Florida, which receives support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Health News Florida reporter Abe Aboraya works for WMFE in Orlando. He started writing for newspapers in high school. After graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2007, he spent a year traveling and working as a freelance reporter for the Seattle Times and the Seattle Weekly, and working for local news websites in the San Francisco Bay area. Most recently Abe worked as a reporter for the Orlando Business Journal. He comes from a family of health care workers.