Thanks to a lot of hard workers hawking petitions in parking lots, not to mention the shifting pop cultural sands, it looks like Florida has a fighting chance for legalizing medical marijuana. Come November, we'll find out. But as with any political movement, despite best intentions and hopes, it's money that's really powering the show. And the funding trail behind the legalization effort leads right back to South Florida.
People United for Medical Marijuana (the official registered name for United for Care), the group behind the legalization push, has been tooling around since 2009 before ramping up it's efforts over the last year or so. The majority of the dollars recently flowing into the group have come from John Morgan, the Orlando based power player attorney who's been the frontman for the amendment. Morgan or his firm have given around a third (something like $3 million, according to the Sun-Sentinel) of the group's money.
But the People United for Medical Marijuana's second biggest donor is tucked well behind the scenes. Campaign finance records filed with the state indicate that Coral Gables' Barbara Stiefel has dropped a chunk of change second only to Morgan's. Between March 2013 and January 2014, the 61-year-old has given to the campaign seven times. The total is $310,000.
Stiefel's bank account has been a trough for Democratic candidates and causes for some time. The money comes from family. According to a New Times story on 2012 election donors, the Stiefel Medicinal Soap Co. was founded in Germany in 1847. By the late 70s, the dermatology company was doing $180 million in sales from Coral Gables' HQ.
When the family sold the company for $3.6 billion in 2009, Barbara Stiefel was left with a fortune totaling $120 million, so says Forbes Magazine. Despite the deep pockets, Stiefel lives in a relatively modest three bedroom, $1.1 million condo on Coral Way.
Stiefel's political piggybanking has been diverse. Durning the last presidential election season, she gave $1 million to a pro-Obama PAC. Also, the Tampa Bay Times reports that the philanthropist has given $100,000 to Charlie Crist's current campaign, cut a check of the same amount to help a "water and lands amendment" get on the ballot, and gave $25,000 to a PAC for Hilary Clinton in 2016.
But Stiefel does all this on the sly. It looks like she's never given an interview to date. The philantropist didn't return a call for comment left by New Times this week. Earlier this month, Stiefel only responded to the Times with a quick email: "I am a philanthropist and activist, and this cause provides safe relief to millions of patients.''
The Tampa paper, however, did find that a number of members of Stiefel's family, including her father, have died from cancer. And of course, the medicinal effect of marijuana on cancer patients is one of the key points in the current crusade.
Send your story tips to the author, Kyle Swenson.