With five states voting on marijuana legalization next month, this is a pivotal year for marijuana policy no matter which way the contests turn out. The results will determine whether marijuana reform gains momentum heading into the next presidential administration or whether the pace of change will slow.
Businesses, interest groups and individuals have spent about$40 million dollars so far this year to support or oppose the measures on the November ballots, according to a Washington Post analysis of campaign finance records from the five states and Ballotpedia. Most of that campaign cash — about $29 million of it — has flowed to the pro-legalization side of the ledger. Legalization supporters have raised close to $20 million in California alone.
But the coalition of groups funding campaigns for or against marijuana vary drastically from state to state. Proponents have accused various industries — like pharma, alcohol or gambling — of playing outsize roles in the opposition to marijuana reform to protect their own interests. While these industries have shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars for campaigns fighting against legalization in several states, campaign finance data suggests that no single interest dominates the marijuana campaign-funding landscape.
In most of the states, wealthy individual donors and small businesses, along with drug policy advocacy groups, have funneled far more dollars to the opposition than casinos, alcohol or the pharmaceutical industry. For example, Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is single-handedly responsible for about one-third of all anti-legalization spending this year, a total of $3.5 million in three states so far.