Who are 2020’s top marijuana legalization campaign donors? We’ve got all the data
This article was updated on Oct. 26, 2020.
Four years ago, prohibition groups fighting cannabis legalization were swimming in money.
With just weeks until election day, legalization opponents are hurting for cash.
In 2016, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson spent millions in a failed effort to derail legalization. The Virginia-based philanthropist Julie Schauer donated tens of thousands of dollars to legalization opponents. Pharmaceutical giant Insys, maker of the opioid fentanyl, spent boatloads of cash to kill Arizona’s adult-use legalization initiative.
In 2020, it’s a different story. Sheldon Adelson has given nothing to the fight against legalization. Julie Schauer hasn’t been heard from except in New Jersey, where she’s donated $500 to an opposition group known as Don’t Let New Jersey Go To Pot. Insys’ high-flying political days ended when founder John Kapoor was sentenced to five years in prison for bribery and fraud. Several other Insys executives were also charged and convicted.
In most of the five states with cannabis legalization measures on the 2020 ballot, public campaign finance data indicates that prohibitionists are hurting for cash.
Legalization campaigns, meanwhile, seem to be suffering no such drought. Montana advocates for adult-use legalization have raised more than $7 million. The Arizona legalization campaign has raised nearly $3.5 million. Mississippi’s medical marijuana campaign has topped the $1 million mark.
For comprehensive information about all the 2020 legalization campaigns, see Leafly’s 2020 Marijuana Legalization Voter Guide.
Update: Late money pours into Mississippi & South Dakota
Update, Oct. 26:
The latest campaign finance disclosure documents show significant sums coming in to support medical cannabis legalization in Mississippi (Initiative 65), and both for and against legalization in South Dakota. Those are shaping up as the most competitive states as Election Day approaches.
Legalization measures in Arizona, Montana, and New Jersey all enjoy significant leads in the latest polls. South Dakota’s adult-use measure is a 50-50 tossup, and a lack of polling data from Mississippi has left most of us clueless about what to expect there.
Notable new donations in Mississippi
- The Marijuana Leadership Campaign, an advocacy group run by former Marijuana Policy Project leader Rob Kampia, kicked in another $145,000 to Mississippi’s medical marijuana legalization campaign.
- Robert Granieri, a hospitality investor who led the opening of Mississippi’s Scarlet Pearl casino complex, donated $100,000 to Mississippi’s campaign.
- $50,000 went to Mississippi’s medical legalization campaign from Americans for Prosperity, one of the Koch brothers’ traditionally conservative-leaning PACs.
- $10,000 went to Mississippi’s medical campaign from Concerned American Voters, a super-PAC that leans conservative/Republican.
- Drug Policy Action, the political action wing of the Drug Policy Alliance, kicked in another $25,000 to Mississippi.
Notable new donations in South Dakota
- Travel show host and legalization advocate Rick Steves gave a personal donation of $50,000 to help legalize in South Dakota.
- Avera Health, a major hospital and health services company in the upper Midwest, donated $20,000 to No Way on A, a group opposing adult-use legalization in South Dakota.
- SDEUC, the South Dakota Electric Utility Companies industry group, gave $20,000 to oppose adult-use legalization.
- The Valley Queen Cheese Factory donated $5,000 to defeat adult-use legalization.
Here’s a state-by-state breakdown of notable donors, based on state financial disclosure data.
The bulk of donations to Smart & Safe Arizona, which is running the campaign for Prop. 207, have come from cannabis companies. As of the latest filing period, legalization advocates had raised nearly $3.5 million. Their biggest donor is Harvest, the Arizona-based medical marijuana company, which has given nearly $1.5 million. Curaleaf, which has dispensaries and retail cannabis stores in 23 states, has given $600,000. Cresco Labs, a cannabis company licensed in six states, has given $300,000.
Campaign officials told Leafly last week that they’ve seen an uptick in donations from in-state medical marijuana companies in the past few weeks. Those donations are potentially tied to polls showing a tightening race over the legalization measure.
Smart and Safe is outspending the measure’s opponent, Arizonans for Health and Public Safety, on an exponential level. The Arizona opposition group has raised about $150,000, primarily from the conservative Center for Arizona Policy Action. Kevin Sabet’s national anti-legalization group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), has also donated $12,500.
Arizona political donors
Top donors for legalization (Prop. 207)
|Harvest||$1,425,000||Largest medical cannabis brand in Arizona|
|Curaleaf||$600,000||National cannabis brand|
|MM Enterprises USA||$200,000||aka MedMen, national cannabis brand|
|Cresco Labs||$300,000||National cannabis brand|
|Copperstate Farms||$155,000||Major Arizona medical cannabis brand|
|Arizona Dispensaries Association||$79,500||State trade association|
|Herbal Wellness Center||$64,000||Major Arizona medical cannabis brand|
|Oasis Dispensaries||$60,000||Major Arizona medical cannabis brand|
Top donors against legalization (Prop. 207)
|Center for Arizona Policy Action||$100,000||Extreme right-wing policy shop, wants porn declared "public health crisis in Arizona"|
|SAM Action||$12,500||National prohibition advocacy group|
|Jim Click, Jr.||$5,000||Prominent Tucson car dealership owner, Republican party donor|
|Beth Coons||$5,000||Chairman of Farnsworth Construction (Mesa, AZ), active community leader|
|Sheila S. Polk||$5,000||Yavapai (AZ) County Attorney, longtime prohibitionist|
|Thomas Polk||$5,000||Prescott-based lawyer, married to Sheila Polk|
|Naomi Cramer||$5,000||Head of HR at Arizona-based Banner Health|
|Andrea Kadar||$1,000||Sedona-based right-wing activist|
|Steve Twist||$1,000||Arizona Republican power broker|
The bulk of their contributions have come from Rep. Joel Bomgar (R), a local tech entrepreneur who has donated $550,000 to the campaign. The Marijuana Leadership Campaign, a Texas-based group led by Rob Kampia, former head of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), has given ($253,500) to the campaign.
The Marijuana Leadership Campaign was set up by Kampia after MPP cut ties with its co-founder and longtime leader in 2017, following accusations of sexual harassment. MM2020 also received an $800,000 loan from First Commercial Bank in Jackson, Mississippi.
While Mississippi state legislators are attempting to derail the medical marijuana initiative via their own confusing and misleading alternate bill, no political action committee has filed organization papers to oppose Initiative 65, the real medical marijuana bill.
Mississippi political donors
Top donors for legalization (Initiative 65)
|Joel Bomgar||$550,000||Tech entrepreneur and state representative|
|Marijuana Leadership Campaign||$398,500||National group led by Rob Kampia, formerly of MPP|
|Robert Granieri||$100,000||Hospitality executive and investor|
|Americans for Prosperity||$50,000||Koch Brothers PAC|
|Richard Schwartz||$30,000||Personal injury attorney|
|Drug Policy Action||$25,000||PAC affiliated with Drug Policy Alliance|
|James Stafford||$20,000||Accountant, community leader, church deacon|
|Angie & Austin Calhoun||$20,000||Parents of a son battling debilitating seizures|
|Concerned American Voters||$10,000||Conservative PAC|
|George Walker III||$10,000||CEO of Heritage Properties|
|Jason Voyles||$10,000||President of Spectrum Capital|
|Ghost Management Group||$10,000||Owner of Weedmaps|
|Robert Lloyde II||$5,000||Owner of ABKO Labs, cannabis/hemp testing company|
Top donors against legalization (Initiative 65)
The campaign to legalize the adult use of cannabis in Montana has raised the most money of any state campaign this year. Montana has tandem legalization measures on the ballot: Initiative 190 works together with Constitutional Initiative 118 to legalize for all adults.
New Approach Montana had raised nearly $7 million as of Sept. 25, receiving nearly $5 million from The North Fund, a DC-based PAC organization that supports progressive causes. The fund is not required by law to disclose its donors, and a spokesperson declined to do so when reached by Leafly.
New Approach Montana has also raised funds from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and in-kind support from the Marijuana Policy Project.
Wrong for Montana, the opposition campaign, has raised a fraction of New Approach’s cash: about $78,000. The bulk of their donations have come from the Montana Family Foundation ($30,000); Wrong for Montana’s treasurer Steve Zabawa, who is also the owner of Rimrock Auto Group ($15,000); and the Montana Contractors’ Association ($25,000).
Montana political donors
Top donors for legalization (Initiatives 190 & 118)
|The North Fund||$4,800,000||Washington, DC-based progressive PAC|
|New Approach PAC||$1,900,000||National legalization political advocacy group|
|Service Employees International Union (SEIU)||$100,000||National labor union|
|Marijuana Policy Project||$50,230||National legalization organization|
|Ghost Management||$25,000||Owner of Weedmaps|
|Trust for Public Land||$1,450||In-kind donation from public land conservation group|
Top donors against legalization (Initiatives 190 & 118)
|Montana Family Foundation||$30,000||Conservative political advocacy group|
|Montana Contractors Association||$25,000||Trade group|
|Steve Zabawa||$15,000||Billings car dealer, longtime legalization opponent|
|Rich Friedel||$5,000||Owner of a drug monitoring company with state contracts tied to marijuana criminalization|
|Montana Auto Dealers Association||$1,000||Trade group|
Donations to the campaign for Question 1, New Jersey’s adult-use cannabis legalization measure, total up to around $575,000.
Heading up the donor list is the Scott’s Company, maker of Scott’s Miracle-Gro, which gave $100,000 to the Question 1 campaign and another $700,000 to a PAC that supports Question 1, the Building Stronger Communities Action Fund.
The ACLU of New Jersey gave $250,000 plus $73,000 in in-kind services, while Drug Policy Action gave $25,000.
A recently registered opposition group, Don’t Let New Jersey Go To Pot, has raised roughly $9,000 so far, including $500 from Julie Schauer, one of 2016’s major donors against legalization.
New Jersey campaign donors
Top donors for legalization (Question 1)
|The Scotts Company||$800,000||Maker of Scotts Miracle-Gro|
|ACLU of New Jersey||$323,000||Local division of national civil liberties group|
|Pashman Stein Walder Hayden||$22,900||Leading cannabis law firm in New Jersey|
|Compassionate Care Research Institute||$10,000||Newark cannabis dispensary company|
|Zach Lehrhoff||$500||Musician; bass & vocals in the Ex Models|
Top donors against legalization (Question 1)
|Melissa Tasse||$5,000||CEO and founder of the Honey Bee Foundation, a nonprofit fighting teen substance abuse|
|Julie Schauer||$500||Major 2016 anti-legalization donor, Virginia-based arts philanthropist|
Oregon’s two novel legalization measures—Measure 109 would legalize the regulated medical use of psilocybin, while Measure 110 would decriminalize all drugs and revamp the state’s drug recovery services system—has two national groups topping the donation list.
The New Approach PAC, which funded many past successful cannabis legalization campaigns, has put more than $2.5 million behind Measure 109.
Meanwhile, Drug Policy Action, the political campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance (they’re legally separate and must comply with federal campaign finance laws), has kicked in $3.4 million to the Measure 110 cause.
Measure 110 recently received a high-profile $500,000 from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the foundation founded and run by pediatrician Priscilla Chan and her husband, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Measure 109 has no registered opposition group. Measure 110’s opponents, No on Measure 110, have raised a small amount of money. Their primary benefactor, lawyer James O’Rourke, has loaned them $40,000. ActionPAC, a campaign money-bundling fund run by political strategy firm Third Century Solutions, based in Lake Oswego, OR, has given the campaign $8,000.
Oregon campaign donors
Top donors for Measure 109, medical psilocybin
|New Approach PAC||$2,575,000||National legalization advocacy fund|
|Adam Wiggins||$60,000||Tech entrepreneur|
|John Gilmore||$19,980||Co-founder of Electronic Frontier Foundation|
|Field Trip Psychedelics Inc.||$10,000||Medical psychedelic therapy company|
Top donors against Measure 109, medical psilocybin
Top donors for Measure 110, all-drug decriminalization
|Drug Policy Action||$3,425,000||Drug Policy Alliance's political action arm|
|Chan Zuckerberg Initiative||$500,000||Foundation led by pediatrician Priscilla Chan and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg|
|ACLU of Oregon||$100,000||State civil liberties group|
|John Gilmore||$10,000||Co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation|
|Oregon AFSCME Council 75||$10,000||Municipal employees union|
|Nurses United Political Action Committee||$5,000||Health care union|
Top donors against Measure 110, all-drug decriminalization
|James O'Rourke||$40,000||$40K loan, not donation. O'Rourke is a Portland criminal defense attorney.|
|ActionPAC||$8,000||Oregon-based PAC run by the Lake Oswego lobbying shop Third Century Solutions|
|Friends of Sandra Nelson||$1,200||In-kind donation from campaign of Republican state representative candidate from Beaverton|
South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws and New Approach South Dakota, who are running the campaign to legalize adult-use and medical marijuana at the same time, have raised just over $1 million. The bulk of those funds—roughly $892,000—have come from the national New Approach PAC.
The legalization campaign got a burst of financial support recently from Justin Johnson, a well-known Sioux Falls restaurant and bar owner. Johnson’s establishments include the Alibi Bar & Grill, Tommy Jack’s Pub, Upper Cut Bar & Grill, and Woody’s Pub and Grill.
Their opponents, NO Way on Amendment A, an organization headed by South Dakota Chamber of Commerce President Dave Owen, filed its first campaign finance reports in late October.
South Dakota political donors
Top donors for legalization (IM-26 & CA-A)
|New Approach PAC||$946,750||National legalization group|
|Justin Johnson||$75,000||Sioux Falls restaurant owner|
|Rick Steves||$50,000||Travel show host and longtime legalization advocate|
|Marijuana Policy Project||$34,100||National legalization group|
|Eberts Property Mgt.||$10,000||In-kind donation|
|Melissa Mentele||$2,000||Legalization campaign leader|
|John Herting||$420||Citizen of Watertown|
|James Ferguson||$420||Chicago resident|
Top donors against legalization
|Open for Business PAC||$50,000|
|Avera Health||$20,000||Major health/hospital corporation in upper Midwest|
|SDEUC||$20,000||South Dakota utility companies PAC|
|Contractors PAC of South Dakota||$5,000||Building contractors industry association|
|Valley Queen Cheese Factory||$5,000||Milbank, SD, company produces 140 million pounds of cheese annually|
|Daktronics||$5,000||They make scoreboards and stadium-size video displays|
|Steve Kirby||$4,000||Former South Dakota lieutenant governor|
In DC, the Decriminalize Nature DC campaign for Initiative 81, which would decriminalize certain psychedelic drugs, has raised about $675,000, including in-kind donations. The campaign’s biggest supporter is the New Approach PAC, which has donated $585,000. Adam Eidinger, Washington, DC’s leading cannabis legalization activist, has donated $6,200 to the campaign as well.
No PAC has filed in opposition to the measure.
Washington, DC political donors
Top donors for Initiative 81
|New Approach PAC||$585,500||National legalization fund|
|Mintwood Strategies||$74,000||DC political strategy firm owned by Adam Eidinger, social action director at Dr. Bronner's|
|Adam Eidinger||$6,200||DC's longtime cannabis legalization advocate (see above)|
Top donors against Initiative 81
Oct. 15 update: Politico reports that megadonor Sheldon Adelson gave $75 million to a pro-Trump PAC in September, giving rise to a theory that he’s focusing all his money on re-electing the President, and not dividing it among other causes.
Leafly will update this page through Nov. 3, 2020 as new information becomes available.