Political Insider

An AJC blog about Atlanta politics, Georgia politics, Georgia and metro Atlanta election campaigns. Because all politics is local.

The Jolt: A former chewing gum CEO shakes up debate over medicinal pot


Foes of the medical marijuana push in the state Capitol are noting the presence of a new force in the debate, one that has already become a source of financing in this year’s campaigns. We’ll start with a bit of background from Monday’s AJC:

One of America’s most iconic names has joined with Surterra Wellness, infusing the Atlanta-based medical cannabis company with millions of dollars, Surterra announced Monday.

William Wrigley Jr., former CEO of chewing gum giant Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company, joined Surterra as chairman of its board of directors after leading the fundraising of $65 million for the company, which is licensed to operate dispensaries in Florida and Texas.

More, from Bloomberg:

Wrigley, known as Beau, said he got into the industry mainly because of marijuana’s medical benefits. He said he’s tapping his experience with product distribution and brand-building to drive growth at Surterra. The cannabis company operates 10 medical dispensaries in Florida, including one in Miami Beach, and has a license to operate in the nascent Texas market.

“When I understood the massive benefits, it really changed my mind about the industry,” Wrigley said in an interview, his first public comments about the investment. “You don’t see too many opportunities to have that kind of an impact in an industry that is being created from scratch.”

The medical marijuana movement is opposed by many religious conservative activists at the Capitol, one of whom passed along the contents of a Thursday email blast from National Families in Action. The group noted the inroads Surterra has already made in Georgia – even if it can’t do business here. A heavily capitalized Surterra is likely to do more, they worry.

National Families notes that state lawmakers this year voted to establish a “joint study committee on low THC medical oil access,” which is scheduled to hold its first meeting on Aug. 29.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle appointed three senators to the committee, including President pro tem Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, who received a $500 check from Surterra Holdings in 2015.

House Speaker David Ralston appointed three members to the committee, including Susan McWhorter Driscoll, a former Coke executive who once served as president of Surterra Therapeutics in Florida. National Families also noted that Surterra donated $5,000 to the Georgia House Republican Trust in 2015.

Surterra contributed $38,100 to this year’s Republican gubernatorial campaign of Clay Tippins, $6,600 to the campaign of Stacey Evans, the Democratic candidate for governor who lost in the May primary.

(It should be noted that much of the Surterra money sent the way of Tippins, who supported the cultivation of medicinal marijuana in Georgia, was directed toward election cycles beyond the primary – a not-uncommon practice that has the added benefit of inflating a candidate’s financial position. Given that Tippins placed fourth on May 22, we presume that cash has been given back.)

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The Democratic Party of Georgia is rushing to Stacey Abrams’ defense on questions about her debt to the IRS. 

Faced with escalating GOP attacks about why she deferred about $54,000 in taxes before loaning her campaign for governor $50,000, the party released an ad of Abrams speaking directly to the camera. Click here to watch. Here’s a transcript: 

“When my father was diagnosed with cancer and money was tight, I knew that I could defer payment on my taxes, but not on his cancer treatments. I made the right choice – the choice to fulfill my obligations to my family – and was able to get on an approved payment plan with the IRS.

“I understand the tough choices working families must make when someone falls ill or finds themselves suddenly caring for a loved one.... .” 

Georgia GOP chair John Watson had this response: 

"Thousands of Georgians struggle with personal debt and make tough decisions everyday to keep their families afloat - but that's not what Abrams is doing. She wrote a $50,000 check to her campaign while still owing $54,000 to the IRS. Abrams needs to put her tax obligations to national defense, border security, and education above her personal political ambitions."

Worth noting is the tagline that accompanies the Abrams defense ad: “Paid for by the Democratic Party of Georgia, approved by Stacey Abrams for Governor.”

Which we assume is a rare, public declaration of a candidate having veto power over the message issued by a separate entity.

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We told you last week that Burt Jones, R-Jackson, had yet to call the first meeting of a state Senate study committee to consider imposing state oversight on the city of Atlanta-owned Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

The committee chairman told us he first wanted to get a green-light from Brian Kemp, the Republican nominee for governor. Apparently, Kemp has given it. The first meeting has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 22.

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Lord know that Republicans have had their crosses to bear, whether a state lawmaker who drops his drawers on national TV, or one who thinks the KKK of old was a stand-up civic association.

So it seems only fair that Democrats are saddled with Steve Foster, who is on the November ballot in a race to unseat U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger. From the Dalton Daily Citizen:

The Democratic congressional candidate who was found guilty this week of DUI challenged the officers who stopped him to a fight, demanded samples of his blood be sent to the headquarters of the CIA and told officers he prayed that God would curse Whitfield County, dash-cam footage of his arrest shows.

In nearly two hours of video and related audio recordings documenting Steven Lamar Foster’s arrest, the trip to Hamilton Medical Center for blood tests and his booking into the Whitfield County jail, Foster at times speaks to the officers in Spanish, blames Gulf War Syndrome on the use of uranium in weapons in the First Gulf War and tells the story of putting a Central American man’s head on a spike.

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On Thursday afternoon, Cathy Woolard, who had a surprisingly good third-place showing in the 2017 race for mayor of Atlanta, sent out an email blast that was chock full of feel-good praise for this year’s Democratic ticket:

“As a native Georgian, I’ve spent a lifetime working to elect candidates for public office who are smart, ethical and progressive. Most years the pickin’s are slim. But not this year. This year is remarkable. Up and down the ballot, we’ve got candidates across the state who are smart, ethical and progressive.”

An astute reader contacted us to wonder whether this might have been the first piece of campaign literature in a 2021 race for mayor.

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