Florida adult-use marijuana campaign spending tops $55M as other MSOs join

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Image of the shape of Florida, containing a U.S. flag inside, sitting atop American currency

(Image by Stephen Finn/stock.adobe.com)

The most expensive adult-use marijuana legalization campaign in U.S. history is picking up speed in Florida.

Six additional marijuana multistate operators have joined the quest of Tallahassee-based Trulieve Cannabis Corp. to transition Florida’s $2 billion medical marijuana market – the largest in the country – to adult use.

In addition to the new partners, legalization campaign committee Smart & Safe Florida announced Wednesday that it raised another $15 million toward the effort.

The MSOs joining the Trulieve-led initiative are:

  • Miami-based Ayr Wellness, which operates 63 medical marijuana treatment centers in the state.
  • Chicago-headquartered Cresco Labs, 33.
  • New York-based Curaleaf Holdings, 61.
  • Chicago-headquartered Green Thumb Industries, 15.
  • Massachusetts-based Insa, 10.
  • Chicago-headquartered Verano Holdings, 74.

The latest $15 million contributed to the legalization effort brings the total to at least $55 million.

More than $40 million was raised and spent by the end of 2023 by Trulieve, the leading retailer in Florida with 134 locations statewide.

By comparison, the spend for California’s successful adult-use measure, Proposition 64 in 2016, topped $25 million, and supporters of Ohio’s Issue 2 reported spending less than $7 million to legalize recreational cannabis last fall.

‘Committed donors’

The Wednesday announcement that other major cannabis companies are joining what had been a solo effort by Trulieve follows a major victory at the Florida Supreme Court on Monday, when justices dismissed a constitutional challenge brought by state Attorney General Ashley Moody.

“We are not only pleased that the court has agreed to move this initiative forward, but we are also thrilled to announce a strong alliance of committed donors to the effort,” David Bellamy, the Smart & Safe Florida campaign chair, said in an emailed statement.

After Smart & Safe Florida reported collecting more than 1 million signatures from registered voters to qualify for the ballot last year, Moody filed a lawsuit alleging that the ballot language misled voters and violated state law limiting ballot questions to one issue.

If passed by 60% of Florida voters in November, state Amendment 3 would allow existing MMJ treatment centers to start selling adult-use cannabis in May 2025.

The measure also legalizes possession of up to 3 ounces of marijuana for adults 21 and older.

Growing cannabis at home would remain illegal, as it is under the state’s medical marijuana law passed in 2016.

The adult-use amendment contains no provisions for a social equity program.

Adding any additional licenses would require future action in the Florida Legislature.

There are currently 627 dispensaries in the state, operated by 25 companies, according to the state Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

Regulators said late last year that as many as 22 new companies could receive permits by this summer, though, at $1.33 million, the state’s license renewal fees are notably high.

MSOs shift focus

The MSOs that joined the legalization campaign this week include four of the six charter members of the Florida Medical Marijuana Trade Association, which formed last month to lobby state officials for favorable regulations.

Though the state’s existing MMJ market was initially the group’s main focus, Monday’s court victory – coupled with “the positive federal reform momentum” represented by the Biden administration’s marijuana rescheduling process – compelled companies including Verano to hop on the legalization initiative bandwagon, said the MSO’s spokesperson, Steve Mazeika.

The potential adult-use market could more than double the state’s $2 billion in annual medical marijuana sales.

Florida counted 859,026 qualified MMJ patients as of July, according to a January report.

With a population of 22 million – plus more than 130 million-plus annual tourists – Florida’s market potential exceeds that of most other states.

Though a November poll showed 62% of voters in favor of adult use, more cash likely will be needed to run and win a statewide campaign in Florida.

Once expensive media ad buys and other campaign costs are finalized, the backers of Amendment 3 will probably spend $20 million-$25 million on top of Trulieve’s original $40 million outlay.

Campaign organizers declined to tell MJBizDaily how much each donor contributed.

The next campaign finance filings are due April 10.

Chris Roberts can be reached at chris.roberts@mjbizdaily.com.