A Political Mystery: The Cannabis Money Pushing to Keep the US Senate Red

More than a dozen cannabis executives and investors have focused their 2020 election funding on political action committees backing Republicans, Cannabis Wire has found. 

Republicans generally have not been boosters of the industry, yet a flurry of funding flowed this June to incumbent Republican Senators clinging to their seats, even as the National Republican Senatorial Committee fights to hold on to a 53-47 GOP majority. Adding a bit of a twist to the mystery: the donations came from all over the country and they all arrived in the same month. 

As the industry well knows, the Republican-controlled Senate has proven to be a significant hurdle for cannabis legislation in Congress. A key example is the SAFE Banking Act, which does not change the legal status of cannabis, and only expands access to financial institutions for state-legal cannabis businesses. The Act passed in the House in September 2019, becoming the first standalone cannabis bill to receive a vote in Congress. Nonetheless, the Senate Banking Committee Chairman, Mike Crapo, pumped the brakes in December, saying, “I remain firmly opposed to efforts to legalize marijuana on the federal level … I also do not support the SAFE Banking Act that passed in the House of Representatives.” The Act has since stalled.  

Meanwhile, the Democrat-controlled House and its committees have, since last year, moved legislation or held hearings about cannabis on subjects ranging from cannabis research to hurdles for small cannabis businesses to veterans’ issues, and included cannabis protections in spending legislation. The full House is also expected to vote on a bill to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, which would be the first time since the passage of the Act that Congress has voted on legislation to change the legal status of cannabis.

Today, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is focused on six incumbent candidates: Senators Martha McSally in Arizona, Cory Gardner in Colorado, Joni Ernst in Iowa, Susan Collins in Maine, Steve Daines in Montana, and Thom Tillis in North Carolina. Polls have shown that both Tillis and Daines are in tight races for their respective seats. 

Cannabis Wire found that fifteen of the eighteen individuals who contributed to the Tillis Daines Majority Committee in 2020 are cannabis executives, or otherwise involved in the cannabis industry. Neither Senator Tillis nor Senator Daines has expressed support for cannabis legalization. However, in the last couple of years, in Congress, Senator Tillis co-sponsored a medical cannabis research bill, and Senator Daines introduced an amendment to expand medical cannabis access for veterans. (Neither Senator responded to Cannabis Wire’s request for comment.)  

Specifically, the joint fundraising committee was formed in July 2019, and has raised just over $65,000 to-date, which goes toward: the Thom Tillis Committee, Steve Daines for Montana, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. 

The first batch of money this PAC received came in from nine individuals with no clear links to the cannabis industry, all from Montana, totalling just under $32,000 in August and September of 2019.

But the second batch came almost entirely from the cannabis industry, in June 2020—a total of around $33,000 from eighteen individuals, all but three involved in the industry. The donations from the fifteen individuals involved with cannabis add up to $27,820.

Of the fifteen cannabis-related individuals, eleven also gave to the WinRed PAC, the primary GOP PAC, which has been endorsed by President Donald Trump. Ten of the fifteen also gave to Cory Gardner, a contribution that seems to make more sense in policy terms, as Gardner has been perhaps the most outspoken Republican advocate for cannabis in the Senate. 

Here is a list of the fifteen individuals in the cannabis industry who contributed to the Tillis Daines Majority Committee, as well as a breakdown of their 2020 election contributions to that PAC and others:

Jason Vedadi, former executive chairman of Harvest Health and Recreation

$1,000 to Tillis Daines Majority Committee

$500 to WinRed 

$500 to Cory Gardner for Senate 

Maxx Abramowitz, principal of Oreva Capital

$3,600 to Tillis Daines Majority Committee

$1,800 to WinRed

$1,800 to Cory Gardner for Senate 

Russell McNeill, co-founder of Augustus Management Company

$350 to Tillis Daines Majority Committee

$1,000 to Donald J. Trump for President

$1,150 to WinRed

Arthur J. Halleran, Jr., Chairman of Augustus Management Company

$1,000 to Tillis Daines Majority Committee

$5,600 to Kennedy for Massachusetts

David C. Hewitt, Chief Acquisition Officer of Augustus Management Company

$1,000 to Tillis Daines Majority Committee

Billy Levy, founder of SLANG Worldwide

$2,000 to Tillis Daines Majority Committee

$1,000 to WinRed

$1,000 to Cory Gardner for Senate

Jennifer Drake, Chief Operating Officer of Ayr Strategies 

$1,000 to Tillis Daines Majority Committee

$500 to WinRed

$500 to Cory Gardner for Senate

Steve White, CEO of Harvest Health and Recreation

$1,870 to Tillis Daines Majority Committee

$930 to WinRed

$930 to Cory Gardner for Senate

Kim Rivers, CEO of Trulieve

$2,800 to Tillis Daines Majority Committee

$1,000 to WinRed

$1,000 to Cory Gardner for Senate

Aaron Riley, CEO of CannaSafe 

$1,400 to Tillis Daines Majority Committee

$700 to WinRed

$700 to Cory Gardner for Senate

Leland Hensch, CEO of Subversive Capital

$500 to Tillis Daines Majority Committee

$250 to WinRed

$250 to Cory Gardner for Senate

Rick Genderson, CEO of Holistic Industries 

$900 to Tillis Daines Majority Committee

Scott Atkison, co-owner of Canna4Life 

$2,800 to Tillis Daines Majority Committee

$1,000 to WinRed

$1,000 to Cory Gardner for Senate

Jonathan Sandelman, CEO of Ayr Strategies 

$2,000 to Tillis Daines Majority Committee

$1,000 to WinRed

$1,000 to Cory Gardner for Senate

Adam Levin, CEO of Oreva Capital

$5,600 to Tillis Daines Majority Committee

*note: Oreva owns the cannabis publication High Times

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