The Carol Jenkins Barnett Family Trust donated $800,000 to an anti-cannabis group in Florida earlier this month. Jenkins Barnett was, until very recently, the chairwoman and president of Publix – a popular Florida grocery and pharmaceutical store chain. This is not the first donation Jenkins Barnett has made to Drug Free Florida, a conservative lobby group that is fighting to prevent the expansion of medical cannabis in the state.
Florida’s Current Cannabis Laws
Under Florida’s current “compassionate use” statute, qualified physicians may order low-THC cannabis for patients suffering from a very select set of conditions – namely cancer, muscle spasms, seizures, and terminal illnesses (where the patient is deemed to have 12 months or less to live).
These patients may possess strains containing 10% or more of CBD, and no more than 0.8% THC, although terminally ill patients may possess slightly higher THC strains. Patients may not cultivate their own cannabis, although there are only six state-licensed dispensaries operating in the entire state.
However, the Florida Right to Medical Marijuana Initiative, Amendment 2 will be on the ballot this November. If voted in, Amendment 2 would allow medical cannabis access to patients with “debilitating medical conditions as determined by a licensed Florida physician.” The proposed initiative would require the Department of Health to register and regulate the production and distribution centers, and to issue patients and caregivers with identification cards.
Drug Free Florida is an anti-cannabis PAC with big backers. Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino magnate and right-wing financier, donated $5 million to the lobby back in 2014. Another prominent donor, Mel Sembler – a former US ambassador, real-estate magnate, and businessman – established a controversial drug treatment program for teens, which was terminated after allegations of abuse emerged and numerous patients won lawsuits against the program or settled out of court.
In 2014, Drug Free Florida shut down a similar ballot initiative, which failed at the voting booths by only 2.38% (Florida requires a supermajority vote of 60%). Jenkins Barnett donated $500,000 to the lobby at that time. Her current contribution, then, is simply a continuation of her already conservative stance on cannabis reform.
Publix released a statement to Time, stating that Jenkins Barnett “has long supported efforts to protect Florida’s families and children against the perils of drug abuse. As such, she feels that Amendment 2 would usher in an unprecedented era of legalized marijuana in Florida as opposed to only helping those who suffer from debilitating illnesses.” While Drug Free Florida argues that Amendment 2 is the same as its 2014 predecessor, the updated initiative actually clarifies the requirements for parental consent when prescribing medical cannabis to minors – directly addressing the oppositional concerns raised in 2014.
While the donation was a personal one, and not made from Publix’s finances, some have speculated that perhaps Jenkins Barnett – who remains the largest shareholder in the company – does not want to see the pharmaceutical chain competing with medical cannabis.
Jenkins Barnett recently had to step down from her position at Publix due to the early onset of Alzheimer’s – which is ironic and tragic considering a recent study suggesting that cannabis may be an effective treatment for the disease itself, and not only its secondary symptoms.