Facing well-financed campaigns to legalize recreational pot, a national coalition that includes former Rep. Patrick Kennedy has raised more than $2 million to fight initiatives in five states this year, including a November ballot measure in California.
The money is being put up by the political arm of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, an anti-legalization group founded by Kennedy; David Frum, senior editor of the Atlantic; and Kevin Sabet, a former drug policy advisor to the Obama administration.
The opposition campaign to California's Proposition 64 will eventually get a large amount of the money because its vote affects so many people and is likely to have the biggest influence on other states considering similar proposals, said Sabet, president of the group, SAM Action.
"If there is one thing we agree on with legalization advocates, it's that California is important," said Sabet, explaining why a large share of funding is going to the Golden State.
If approved by voters Nov. 8, the ballot measure would allow adults 21 and older to possess, transport and use up to an ounce of cannabis for recreational purposes and would also impose a 15% tax on retail sales of the drug.
The opponents also plan to fund battles against cannabis legalization initiatives on the November ballots in Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine, in addition to Arizona, where signatures have been turned in, according to Sabet.
The contribution to the opposition campaign in California comes after it has fallen far behind its opponents in fundraising.
Former Facebook President Sean Parker has put $2.5 million into the legalization campaign, which has raised a total of $6.7 million so far for the initiative qualification and efforts to win voter support.
In comparison, the opposition's Coalition for Responsible Drug Policies has raised about $125,000 from groups including the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs State PAC and the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Assn.
Sabet said opponents don't expect to be able to match the money raised by proponents because the backers have a financial incentive to invest in legalization.
"If legalization wins, it creates an environment where a small number of people are going to get rich," Sabet said.
A representative for Parker has denied that he has plans to invest in the marijuana industry.
Some of the money is going to Latino outreach coordinators based in Los Angeles with the expectation that the initiative could be vulnerable to opposition from that community if it votes in large numbers in the presidential contest.
Opponents declined to say who donated the money originally but, when asked, said it does not come from law enforcement sources or billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who has fought legalization proposals elsewhere and whose son died of a drug overdose.
"It is putting our children at risk and has exposed children from communities of color to more racial discrimination than before," said Kennedy, who represented part of Rhode Island in Congress, about the legalization movement. He is the son of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy and the nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy.
In newly released ballot arguments, opponents said the measure would lead to more drugged-driving accidents and pot shops near schools.
"Proposition 64 is an all-out assault on underprivileged neighborhoods already reeling from alcohol and drug addiction problems," said the opposition argument, whose signers include U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Doug Villars, president of the California Assn. of Highway Patrolmen.
Supporters say marijuana is already available "nearly everywhere," but without protections for children and consumers.
"Proposition 64 finally creates a safe, legal and comprehensive system for adult use of marijuana while protecting our children," said the ballot argument, whose signers include Donald O. Lyman, former chief of chronic disease and injury control for the state Department of Public Health, and Stephen Downing, former deputy chief for the Los Angeles Police Department.
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