By Eli McVey
With just two weeks to go until Election Day, the marijuana industry has reason to be optimistic that 2016 will truly shape up to be a historic year for cannabis and pave the way for billions of dollars in business opportunities.
Collectively, committees behind marijuana measures on the ballot in nine states have raised $3.25 for every $1 donated to groups trying to sink the initiatives, according to an analysis of contributions to campaigns for and against the proposals.
The data is encouraging for legalization supporters, as the comparatively large amount of money contributed to pro-legalization ballot committees will, ostensibly, provide an advantage ahead of the Nov. 8 election – in terms of further advertising, marketing, education, voter turnout initiatives, etc.
In total, pro-legalization ballot committees have raised $38.7 million, compared with the opposition’s $11.9 million. (The figures include donations in Montana, which has already legalized medical marijuana but is voting on whether to allow commercial production and sales.)
The largest disparity in fundraising between legalization supporters and opponents can be seen in Maine, where pro-legalization committees have outraised the opposition nearly 29 to 1.
Ballot committees, sometimes referred to as political action committees (PACs) depending on the state, are registered organizations that pool campaign contributions from individuals, businesses and organizations in order to support or defeat initiatives that go before voters.
Large advocacy organizations such as the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Policy Project are often major donors to ballot committees in support of legalization.
Of the nine states with marijuana-related initiatives on this year’s ballot, only Montana’s pro-cannabis committees have been outraised by those in opposition to legalization.
Committees in every state with a ballot measure to actually legalize recreational or medical marijuana have outraised their opponents.
In terms of total dollars raised, the eight ballot committees in support of legalization in California have raised more than any other state – nearly $20 million dollars – dwarfing the $2.4 million raised by the measures’ opponents.
And despite being outraised by legalization supporters, ballot committees in Florida have raised over $3.4 million to fight medical marijuana legalization, more than any other opposition campaign in the country.
In many states, ballot committees opposing marijuana legalization are receiving large donations from just a handful of extremely rich donors.
This year alone, Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino magnate, has given $2 million to opposition committees in Nevada and $1 million each to opposition committees in Florida and Massachusetts.
Pro-legalization committees, however, are being funded by a more diverse crowd, from individuals, advocacy organizations and, most notably, business interests.
The most current fundraising data available in each state was used for this analysis, but due to the differences in each state’s financial disclosure requirements, the date that constitutes “most recent” varies. The oldest data used in any state, however, is through Sept. 19.
In states where ballot committees are established specifically to support or oppose an initiative for the 2016 election, funding data was used going back to that committee’s inception. In states like Florida – where ballot committees established to support or oppose legalization initiatives prior to 2016 are allowed to use funds from previous election cycles – finance data was gathered going back to the day after the 2014 general election.
In an interesting and rather extraordinary scenario in Arkansas, where two competing marijuana legalization initiatives are on the ballot, the committee in support of one – Arkansas United for Medical Marijuana – has raised nearly seven times more than the ballot committee in support of the other.
It remains to be seen how the fundraising disparity will affect final outcomes of state elections, but it’s clearly an advantage that may be just enough to tip the scales in tight races across the country.
Eli McVey can be reached at [email protected]