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Who are 2020’s top marijuana legalization campaign donors? We’ve got all the data

This article was updated on Oct. 14, 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. 

Related
Election 2020: All you need to know about cannabis legalization on the ballot

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.

Here’s a state-by-state breakdown of notable donors, based on state financial disclosure data.

Arizona

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)

DonorAmountNotes
Harvest$1,425,000Largest medical cannabis brand in Arizona
Curaleaf$600,000National cannabis brand
MM Enterprises USA$200,000aka MedMen, national cannabis brand
Cresco Labs$300,000National cannabis brand
Copperstate Farms$155,000Major Arizona medical cannabis brand
Arizona Dispensaries Association$79,500State trade association
Herbal Wellness Center$64,000Major Arizona medical cannabis brand
Oasis Dispensaries$60,000Major Arizona medical cannabis brand

Top donors against legalization (Prop. 207)

DonorAmountNotes
Center for Arizona Policy Action$100,000Extreme right-wing policy shop, wants porn declared "public health crisis in Arizona"
SAM Action$12,500National prohibition advocacy group
Jim Click, Jr.$5,000Prominent Tucson car dealership owner, Republican party donor
Beth Coons$5,000Chairman of Farnsworth Construction (Mesa, AZ), active community leader
Sheila S. Polk$5,000Yavapai (AZ) County Attorney, longtime prohibitionist
Thomas Polk$5,000Prescott-based lawyer, married to Sheila Polk
Naomi Cramer$5,000Head of HR at Arizona-based Banner Health
Andrea Kadar$1,000Sedona-based right-wing activist
Steve Twist$1,000Arizona Republican power broker

Mississippi

In Mississippi, the only state with medical marijuana on the November ballot (Initiative 65), the Medical Marijuana 2020 (MM2020) campaign had raised about $2 million as of August 31.

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)

NameAmountNotes
Joel Bomgar$550,000Tech entrepreneur and state representative
Marijuana Leadership Campaign$253,500National group led by Rob Kampia, formerly of MPP
Richard Schwartz$30,000Personal injury attorney
James Stafford$20,000Accountant, community leader, church deacon
Angie & Austin Calhoun$20,000Parents of a son battling debilitating seizures
George Walker III$10,000CEO of Heritage Properties
Ghost Management Group$10,000Owner of Weedmaps
Robert Lloyde II$5,000Owner of ABKO Labs, cannabis/hemp testing company

Top donors against legalization (Initiative 65)

NameAmountNotes
NoneNoneNone

Montana

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.

Nearly $2 million came from the national New Approach PAC (which, according to IRS documents, has itself received $5 million from Dr. Bronner’s soap company this year). 

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)

NameAmountNotes
The North Fund$4,800,000Washington, DC-based progressive PAC
New Approach PAC$1,900,000National legalization political advocacy group
Service Employees International Union (SEIU)$100,000National labor union
Marijuana Policy Project$50,230National legalization organization
Ghost Management$25,000Owner of Weedmaps
Trust for Public Land$1,450In-kind donation from public land conservation group

Top donors against legalization (Initiatives 190 & 118)

NameAmountNotes
Montana Family Foundation$30,000Conservative political advocacy group
Montana Contractors Association$25,000Trade group
Steve Zabawa$15,000Billings car dealer, longtime legalization opponent
Rich Friedel$5,000Owner of a drug monitoring company with state contracts tied to marijuana criminalization
Scott Paulsen$2,000
Montana Auto Dealers Association$1,000Trade group

New Jersey

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)

NameAmountNotes
The Scotts Company$800,000Maker of Scotts Miracle-Gro
ACLU of New Jersey$323,000Local division of national civil liberties group
Weedmaps$91,000
Pashman Stein Walder Hayden$22,900Leading cannabis law firm in New Jersey
Compassionate Care Research Institute$10,000Newark cannabis dispensary company
Zach Lehrhoff$500Musician; bass & vocals in the Ex Models

Top donors against legalization (Question 1)

NameAmountNotes
Melissa Tasse$5,000CEO and founder of the Honey Bee Foundation, a nonprofit fighting teen substance abuse
Donna Tomlinson$1,000
Julie Schauer$500Major 2016 anti-legalization donor, Virginia-based arts philanthropist

Oregon

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

NameAmountNotes
New Approach PAC$2,575,000National legalization advocacy fund
Adam Wiggins$60,000Tech entrepreneur
John Gilmore$19,980Co-founder of Electronic Frontier Foundation
Field Trip Psychedelics Inc.$10,000Medical psychedelic therapy company
Jack Smith$10,000
Sasha Cajkovich$10,000

Top donors against Measure 109, medical psilocybin

NameAmountNotes
NoneNoneNone

Top donors for Measure 110, all-drug decriminalization

NameAmountNotes
Drug Policy Action$3,425,000Drug Policy Alliance's political action arm
Chan Zuckerberg Initiative$500,000Foundation led by pediatrician Priscilla Chan and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
ACLU of Oregon$100,000State civil liberties group
John Gilmore$10,000Co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation
Oregon AFSCME Council 75$10,000Municipal employees union
Nurses United Political Action Committee$5,000Health care union

Top donors against Measure 110, all-drug decriminalization

Name AmountNotes
James O'Rourke$40,000$40K loan, not donation. O'Rourke is a Portland criminal defense attorney.
ActionPAC$8,000Oregon-based PAC run by the Lake Oswego lobbying shop Third Century Solutions
Friends of Sandra Nelson$1,200In-kind donation from campaign of Republican state representative candidate from Beaverton

South Dakota

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, have not filed any campaign finance reports.

South Dakota political donors

Top donors for legalization (IM-26 & CA-A)

NameAmountNotes
New Approach PAC$946,750National legalization group
Marijuana Policy Project$34,100National legalization group
Justin Johnson$25,000Sioux Falls restaurant owner
Eberts Property Mgt. $10,000In-kind donation
Melissa Mentele$2,000Legalization campaign leader
John Herting$420Citizen of Watertown
James Ferguson$420Chicago resident

Washington, DC

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

NameAmountNotes
New Approach PAC$585,500National legalization fund
Mintwood Strategies$74,000DC political strategy firm owned by Adam Eidinger, social action director at Dr. Bronner's
Adam Eidinger$6,200DC's longtime cannabis legalization advocate (see above)

Top donors against Initiative 81

NameAmountNotes
NoneNoneNone

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.

Max Savage Levenson and Bruce Barcott's Bio Image
Max Savage Levenson and Bruce Barcott

Max Savage Levenson is Leafly's chief political correspondent covering the 2020 election. He's based in Missoula, Montana.

Bruce Barcott is Leafly's senior editor for news and investigations.

View Max Savage Levenson and Bruce Barcott's articles