With a November ballot initiative teed up for medical marijuana, the camps working both sides of the issue are now deep in the trenches, trying to lure voters. Cold, hard cash is obviously powering the efforts, which begs the question: Where's the money coming from?
In both camps, big-money donors are footing most of the bill. But in terms of the pro-pot movement, two main funders are being underwritten by thousands of contributors from across the state -- moms and pops and potheads opening their wallets for $50 and $100 donations.
In between, though, there's another, sizable camp -- the midsize givers who have handed over five-figure sums, sometimes several times. It's a key group in the fight to bring legal medical weed to Florida, and records show it's an eclectic assortment: from local attorneys to sports agents and out-of-state pot entrepreneurs to reptile sellers.
Campaign documents show that the People United for Medical Marijuana's piggy bank is filled with around $5.5 million from 5,659 gifts. Most of that cash came from two sources: movement leader John Morgan and Democratic cause sugar mama Barbara Stiefel.
But out-of-state weed interests are also getting in on the action. Denver and Irvine-based Ghost Group, a private firm with fingers in dozens of medical marijuana websites and ventures, gave $10,000 to the campaign. Scott Dittman -- CEO of Fusion Pharm Inc., a company that tricks out shipping containers as grow houses -- dropped $40,000. The Harborside Health Center, an Oakland cannabis dispensary, forked over $20,000.
Across Florida, the mix of midsized givers includes oddball companies and no-name outfits. Int. Sports Managing, which lists its address as a West Kendall apartment, gave $50,000. Harrison's Organic Acres in Palm Beach also kicked in $50,000. Manchester Capital, based in Plantation, mailed in $30,000. Hollywood-based Alternative Fuels Americas Inc. spent $10,000, the same figure contributed by Miami-based criminal defense firm Jeffrey Feiler PA. Ben Siegel Reptiles, a Deerfield Beach wholesaler of slithery pets, also sent a check for $10,000.
"I believe as a country, not just in Florida, we should be allowed to choose the option of medical cannabis to treat ailments," Siegel says. "If alcohol and tobacco are legal, it seems a little bit odd that cannabis should not be, especially with the new research showing its many untapped benefits. I got to watch my father, my best friend, die of liver cancer slowly over three years. The only relief he could get was from painkillers that were damaging the very organ he was trying to fix. It was a terrible Catch-22 that could have been avoided had medicinal marijuana been an option."
The real contrast between the yea and nay campaigns for medical marijuana becomes apparent in the financials of People United for Medical Marijuana's foe, Drug Free Florida Committee. That group, with $2.7 million, has been funded by only 15 contributions, including $2.5 million from Sheldon Adelson, $100,000 from Drug Free America Foundation founder Mel Sembler, and $25,000 from former U.S. Ambassador to Portugal Alfred Hoffman Jr. The regular Joes and the midfigure funders are nowhere to be found.