The marijuana industry and advocates have poured more than $9.8 million into ballot measure battles to legalize recreational marijuana in Arkansas, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota since the start of 2021.
The cannabis legalization landscape in the U.S. is rapidly shifting, as evidenced by President Joe Biden’s federal pardons issued on Oct. 6 for people convicted of marijuana possession. While there is currently no one in federal prison solely for the simple possession of marijuana, the announcement is a step toward honoring Biden’s campaign promise to decriminalize marijuana and could remove barriers to employment and housing for thousands previously convicted of the felony charge. The president also pledged to ask governors to take similar action at the state level.
Nineteen states, two territories and the District of Columbia have already legalized recreational marijuana for adults over the age of 21, and voters in five states will consider ballot measures to decriminalize or legalize marijuana use in the November general election.
Committees supporting 2022 ballot measures that would legalize recreational marijuana have raised over $4 million in Arkansas, $4.9 million in Missouri, $551,400 in North Dakota and $324,800 in South Dakota, according to OpenSecrets data. In Arkansas, two committees bankrolled by two GOP megadonors have raised an additional $2 million to oppose marijuana legalization.
Maryland voters will also consider a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana, but the two committees supporting Amendment 4 have not filed reports with the secretary of state as of Oct. 11. The Washington Post did report a $50,000 contribution to the Yes on 4 ballot measure campaign, which is run by the MD Can 22 committee that supports the measure. A recent Washington Post and University of Maryland poll found a majority of Maryland voters plan to support the amendment on Nov. 8.
Marijuana Industry Boosts Committee Supporting Legalization in Arkansas and Missouri
Voters approved the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, which allows seriously ill patients to safely obtain and use medical marijuana with physician approval, during the 2016 election. Now Issue 4, also known as the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment, could greenlight the cultivation and recreational sale of marijuana by licensed commercial facilities.
Responsible Growth Arkansas reported raising more than $4 million to support the ballot measure as of Oct. 11. The state’s first five cannabis cultivators – companies licensed to grow and distribute cannabis to dispensaries – contributed over $3 million to Responsible Growth Arkansas since November 2021.
One of the original five cultivators, Osage Creek Cultivation LLC, gave $800,000, the committee’s largest contribution. Responsible Growth Arkansas also received $700,000 from BOLD Team, $700,000 from Good Day Farm Arkansas, $400,000 from Natural State Medicinal Group and $435,000 from DMCC LLC, which owns Revolution Cannabis. These totals include the initial $350,000 each these five cultivators contributed to kickstart the committee last year.
Several dispensaries contributed to Responsible Growth Arkansas as well, including $50,000 each from the majority women-owned dispensary Acanza and medical marijuana dispensaries Source Cannabis and Rock City Harvest.
The chair of Responsible Growth Arkansas, Eddie Armstrong, is a former Democratic state legislator and current CEO of Cannabis Capital Group. His company consults with groups hoping to obtain industry licenses, the Arkansas Times reported.
Responsible Growth Arkansas – which did not return requests for comment from OpenSecrets – highlights the economic benefits of cannabis legalization as part of its effort to rally support for the ballot measure. The committee commissioned a study by the Arkansas Economic Development Institute, which forecasted a nearly $2.4 billion increase in state GDP and 6,400 new jobs over the next five years if voters greenlight a legal marijuana industry.
“A vote for Issue 4 is a vote to support our police,” one Responsible Growth Arkansas video states. The ad addresses criticisms levied by Safe and Secure Communities, which has raised over $2 million to oppose the ballot measure.
“[T]he societal costs of legalized drugs far outweigh the revenue marijuana sales bring,” Safe and Secure Communities’ website states. It also calls out the “marijuana industry that profits from an addictive substance.” The National Institute of Health says cannabis “dependence” is more accurate.
Little Rock poultry mogul Ronald Cameron contributed nearly $1.3 million to the Safe and Secure Communities committee. GOP megadonor Richard Uihlein, founder of the shipping supply company ULINE, contributed an additional $750,000.
Cameron also contributed $78,600 to the Family Council Action Committee, a conservative 501(c)(4) group that advocates for “traditional family values in the political arena” and is also opposing the measure.
The Family Council Action Committee is primarily focused on grassroots engagement opposing the marijuana legalization ballot measure ahead of the Nov. 8 vote, Assistant Director David Cox told OpenSecrets in an email, adding that over 260 volunteers have distributed hundreds of thousands of fliers across Arkansas.
A ballot measure to remove state prohibitions on the possession, consumption and sale of marijuana for adults over 21 has also attracted marijuana industry contributions supporting the campaign.
Missourians voted to legalize medical marijuana during the 2018 election cycle, and this election cycle they can cast their ballot to remove or uphold prohibitions on adult-use recreational marijuana in the state. This November, Amendment 3, a measure that would amend the state constitution to remove existing prohibitions, will be on the ballot in Missouri. The amendment would also allow people with “marijuana-related non-violent offenses” to petition for release from prison, expunging their records.
Legal Missouri 2022 – a committee funded in part by dispensaries and other marijuana industry groups – has raised $4.9 million to support Amendment 3. The largest contribution to Legal Missouri 2022 tracked by OpenSecrets is $365,000 from New Growth Horizon LLC, the nonprofit arm of the medical marijuana company Proper Brands.
No committees reported raising money to oppose Missouri’s Amendment 3 or Initiated Measure 27, a South Dakota ballot measure to legalize the possession, distribution and use of marijuana.
Advocacy Groups Lead Marijuana Legalization Campaigns in North and South Dakota
One group, South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, has raised over $324,000 this election cycle supporting Initiated Measure 27 in the state’s second attempt to legalize cannabis use by adults over 21.
South Dakota voters approved ballot measures to legalize medical marijuana and recreational use by adults over 21 in 2020. But Gov. Kristi Noem (R) filed a lawsuit that overturned Amendment A, the ballot measure legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults, which is why a similar measure is back on the ballot this election season.
Initiated Measure 27 is “a shorter, simpler version” of Amendment A, Matthew Schweich, the campaign manager of South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, told OpenSecrets in an interview.
“We wrote a very short and simple statutory initiative that we felt had the lowest chance of being taken to court on a single subject challenge,” Schweich said, adding his team was working to “restore the will of the people” in South Dakota who voted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2020.
Schweich is also the deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates for the end of cannabis prohibitions. South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws reported in-kind contributions valued at $74,000 from Marijuana Policy Project this election cycle. Schweich told OpenSecrets that total includes his labor and that of the Marijuana Policy Project’s campaigns coordinator, Jared Moffat, who is overseeing ballot measure campaigns in both North Dakota and South Dakota.
South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws received another $68,400 in 2022 from New Approach Advocacy Fund, a D.C.-based group that supports statewide campaigns to legalize access to cannabis and psychedelic therapy.
A 527 nonprofit affiliated with the group, New Approach PAC, contributed an additional $20,000 in 2021 to South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws. New Approach PAC previously gave nearly $1.9 million to support cannabis legalization when it was on the ballot in South Dakota in 2020.
New Approach North Dakota, a committee campaigning to legalize adult-use marijuana in the Flickertail State, reported raising over $551,000. Healthy and Productive ND, a committee opposing the ballot measure in North Dakota, registered as a committee on Oct. 5 and has not reported raising any money as of Oct. 11.
The bulk of funds raised by New Approach North Dakota have come from in-kind contributions valued at nearly $307,000 from New Approach Advocacy Fund and almost $61,000 from the Marijuana Policy Project.
“We tend to go where we’re needed,” Schweich told OpenSecrets when asked about the Marijuana Policy Project’s strategy, noting there is a “fairly well-developed medical cannabis industry” supporting ballot measure campaigns in Arkansas and Missouri.
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