Money bolsters both sides of Prop. 19 debate

The battle over Proposition 19 has shifted to television sets and radios for the final week of the campaign, as both sides benefit from recent support from major financial backers.

On Monday, George Soros, a multibillionaire investor who spent $3 million on earlier initiatives to change California’s drug laws, endorsed the measure. “He plans to make a significant contribution,” said Michael Vachon, an advisor to the philanthropist and hedge-fund chairman.

The campaign to legalize marijuana in California plans to launch cable television commercials Tuesday in the Los Angeles area. The ads feature Joseph D. McNamara, a retired San Jose police chief, saying his 35 years in law enforcement convinced him that the war on marijuana has failed.

The California Chamber of Commerce started to run radio ads last week in Los Angeles and San Diego saying the measure “would hurt California’s economy, raise business costs and make it harder to create jobs.” And the No on 19 campaign began running radio ads Saturday in Northern California.


Proposition 19 would allow adults 21 and older to grow and possess marijuana, and it would allow cities and counties to approve cultivation, sales and taxation.

In an essay posted online by the Wall Street Journal, Soros argues that marijuana should be regulated and taxed. “Proposition 19 already is a winner no matter what happens on election day,” he writes. “The mere fact of its being on the ballot has elevated and legitimized public discourse about marijuana and marijuana policy in ways I could not have imagined a year ago.”

Dan Newman, a spokesman, said the Yes on 19 campaign has paid $170,000 to run the McNamara ad through election day but hopes to raise more money. “We’ve got lots of contributions pouring in to keep it on the air and put it on other markets,” he said.

In the 30-second spot, McNamara says, “Proposition 19 will tax and control marijuana just like alcohol. It will generate billions of dollars for local communities, allow police to focus on violent crimes and put drug cartels out of business.”

The chamber maintains that the initiative would prevent employers from taking action against workers who show up high and has spent $250,000 on radio ads in Southern California. In the ad, a female narrator says, “Imagine coming out of surgery, and the nurse caring for you was high.”

The No on 19 campaign has spent $10,000 to run a similar ad in Redding and Chico. “Prop. 19 would allow big-rig drivers and even school bus drivers to smoke marijuana right up until the moment they climb behind the wheel,” says Assemblyman Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber).

Roger Salazar, a spokesman, said the No on 19 campaign has received extensive media coverage in most of the state, but not up north. “This helps us get our message across up there,” he said.