Florida’s shift on medical marijuana encouraged by millions in political donations

When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs a bill on his desk to end the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana, he’ll resolve one of the biggest disputes in a two-year fight in which cannabis companies have pushed to lift what they deem improper restrictions on a marketplace now legitimized in the state Constitution.

They litigated. They lobbied. And they bet — a lot — on the right politicians.

Since the summer of 2016, when a campaign to bring a full-fledged medical marijuana market to Florida by constitutional amendment hit high gear, Florida’s licensed cannabis corporations and their executives have given at least $2.5 million in political contributions to state lawmakers and political parties. About two-thirds of that money came in the 22 months after former Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill into law regulating the state’s newly authorized market in a way that allowed patients to use prescribed oils, creams and vaping products, but limited storefronts and outlawed smoking.

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A close-up of a flowering marijuana plant in the production room of Modern Health Concepts’ greenhouse in Southwest Miami-Dade.

C.M. GUERRERO cmguerrero@elnuevoherald.com

The biggest recipients of cannabis contributions include Florida’s Democratic and Republican parties, which together received $517,000 from Florida’s licensed cannabis corporations and their executives. The past, current and likely future presidents in the Florida Senate, the chamber where legislation more favorable to the industry has typically germinated, received a combined $650,000.

The largest single donation by a cannabis company — $50,000 from a Texas affiliate of Surterra — went to DeSantis in October.

“Their participation goes hand in hand with it being a lawful industry now, or a constitutionally authorized industry, in the state of Florida,” said Senate President Bill Galvano, whose Innovate Florida political committee has received at least $102,000 from marijuana companies and executives since 2016. “But the extent of their influence has yet to be seen.”

So far, the industry’s biggest players — among the half-dozen that got their foot in the door after the state first allowed companies to produce low-THC products in 2014 — have given prolifically.

Surterra, launched by venture capitalists in Atlanta, has donated $1.1 million since the summer of 2016, not including its donations to federal Super PACs. Trulieve, out of North Florida, has donated $564,000. Curaleaf, which grows and processes its cannabis in rural South Miami-Dade, has contributed $469,000.

And in 2019, the three companies have given at least $103,500 to lawmakers’ political committees. All of the donations followed a Jan. 17 press conference DeSantis held in Orlando with marijuana advocate and booster John Morgan to declare that he’d drop the state’s appeals of several lawsuits — including one filed by Morgan — if lawmakers didn’t pass bills by March 15 allowing patients to smoke marijuana.

“What the Florida Legislature has done to implement the people’s will has not been done in accordance with what the amendment envisioned,” DeSantis said at the time. “Whether [patients] have to smoke it or not, who…

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