Pot Legalization Measure Fails to Draw Big Money

Associated Press + More

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — In a state where contentious ballot measures can spawn multi-million-dollar throwdowns, no one for or against California's high-profile marijuana legalization initiative has raised much cash.

Most notably absent are big donations from the thriving medical marijuana industry, a seemingly natural base of support for a measure being sold as a way to raise tax revenue for the cash-strapped state.

At the same time, the Yes on 19 campaign has still outraised the No campaign by about 10 to 1.

Supporters of the measure to legalize possession and cultivation of limited amounts of pot for adults had raised $2.1 million as of Tuesday, the latest deadline for campaigns to report their contributions. Nearly three-quarters of the money has come from the businesses of the measure's main backer, Richard Lee, a one-time rock concert lighting technician turned medical marijuana entrepreneur.

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About $1.3 million of the Yes campaign's money went toward the signature drive to qualify the measure for the ballot.

Opponents had raised just more than $210,000, much of it from law enforcement sources.

Both sides had about the same amount of cash on hand as of Tuesday: about $54,000 for the No campaign and $67,000 for the Yes campaign.

Ballot measure watchers said initiatives that deal with social issues typically attract less funding than measures that involve major industries such as oil, energy and insurance.

"There's just no economic interest there," said John Matsusaka, president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California.

The one glaring exception is Proposition 8, the 2008 measure that banned same-sex marriage in the state. Groups for and against the measure spent more than $83 million, a national record for a ballot measure on a social issue.

In the pot debate, both sides have relied on media attention rather than brimming campaign chests to get their messages out. The approach seems to be working.

In a recent Field Poll, 84 percent of respondents said they had heard of Proposition 19, compared to under 40 percent for other major measures on the ballot Nov. 2.

Missing are the big advertising campaigns and media events that generated heat around past ballot measures.

"People have strong feelings about this. They're not easily swayed. TV adverstising doesn't have as big an effect, pro or con," Lee said.

Recent polling does suggest that many likely voters have made up their minds: Fewer than 10 percent of likely voters said they were undecided on Proposition 19, according to the most recent Field and Public Policy Institute of California polls. The measure was ahead in both polls.

Still, supporters are faced with the irony of having little funding for a measure billed as a money-maker for California.

Absent have been contributions from the deep-pocketed donors who underwrote the successful 1996 campaign to pass Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana in California.

"The large donors who funded Prop. 215 and traditionally fund the large cannabis reform organizations are all suffering from donor fatigue," opined Steve D'Angelo, founder of Oakland's Harborside Health Center dispensary. "Due to the fluctuations in the overall buisness world, they are watching their money more carefully than they were when Prop. 215 passed."

The single largest donations to the "yes" campaign outside of Lee have come from Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, who has given $70,000. Moskovitz is no longer with the company.

Men's Wearhouse chief executive George Zimmer, a San Francisco Bay area resident who donated heavily to the medical marijuana measure and gives frequently to drug legalization causes, donated $20,000 during the signature drive for Proposition 19. He has given only $500 since.

The measure has also sharply divided the multi-billion-dollar marijuana industry itself.

Medical marijuana dispensaries could lose out if cities allow other retailers to sell the drug. Users would no longer need recommendations from doctors who specialize in medical marijuana to obtain the drug. And illicit growers could see legalized marijuana drive prices into a tailspin.