Publix Heiress Donates $800,000 to Fight Medical Marijuana Legalization in Florida

Florida loves Publix, the supermarket chain routinely ranked the most valuable and beloved company in the whole state thanks in no small part to its fantastically salty sub sandwiches. So it's sure to jar a few hard-core Publix fans to learn that the family that founded the chain just donated $800,000 to a conservative-led campaign fighting medical marijuana legalization.

State election records show that the Carol Jenkins Barnett Family Trust donated $800,000 July 14 to Drug Free Florida, the lobbying group running a scare-tactics campaign to kill Florida's medical marijuana amendments. The same group helped squash 2014's medical marijuana amendment, which fell just two percentage points short of the 60 percent vote it needed to pass statewide.

With a similar bill called Amendment 2 on the ballot this November, Drug Free Florida is back spreading lies, half-truths, and misinformation about the proposed law. Miami New Times debunked ten of the group's most egregiously false claims yesterday — and our sister paper, New Times Broward-Palm Beach, also compiled a list of the most hilarious, Reefer Madness-style videos Drug Free Florida has put out this year too.

According to Forbes, Jenkins Barnett, daughter of Publix founder George Jenkins, is worth $1.8 billion and owns under 5 percent of the supermarket chain. She was reportedly Publix's largest shareholder as of June.

It appears Jenkins Barnett, who stepped down from her role with the chain last month as she fights early-onset Alzheimer's at age 59, really doesn't like medical marijuana. She reportedly gave more than $500,000 to Drug Free Florida in 2014 — this year, she's given even more to ensure the amendment doesn't pass.

This could, theoretically, be because Publix is also one of the largest pharmacies in the South, and legalized medical weed might cut into her family's prescription-pill business, but United for Care Campaign Manager Ben Pollara — whose group is backing Amendment 2 — tells New Times that cannabis fans shouldn't start picketing outside Publix stores just yet.

He says he doesn't know why Barnett's family trust donated during both ballot cycles, but he assumes it has less to do with Publix's bottom line than it does with Barnett's own politics.

"I'm still shopping at Publix, let's put it that way," he says. "I don’t want the potheads to get up in arms and boycott Publix just yet."

Publix spokesperson Maria Brous tells New Times the donation was not officially connected to Publix.

"Publix has not made a contribution in support of or in opposition to Amendment 2," she says via email. "The donation made by Carol Jenkins Barnett was a personal donation and not one made by the company."

Elsewhere, Publix is known for donating at least $25 million each year to charities such as the United Way. Under Jenkins Barnett's watch, the chain reportedly donated $250,000 to help the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in June. 

So Pollara seems flummoxed why she's fighting so hard to kill medical pot in Florida.

"I have no idea why she's donating," Pollara says, "but I do think she's pissing away her money."

According to a United for Care-funded poll released yesterday, 77 percent of Florida voters support medical marijuana legalization.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.