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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Marijuana Legalization Measure Courts Billionaires for Vital Campaign Cash

Posted By on Thu, Feb 2, 2012 at 3:30 PM

click to enlarge Close. But close enough?
  • Close. But close enough?

Regulate Marijuana Like Wine, a marijuana legalization measure vying to get onto the November ballot, has only $80,000 in cash on hand, according to finance records. But in a poll released this week, it had potential support from 62 percent of likely voters -- and that, ballot proponents say, is quite literally money in the bank.

"That shows funders we can win," said Steve Kubby, a South Lake Tahoe marijuana activist and member of the Regulate Marijuana Like Wine's campaign committee. "Anytime you're polling over 60 percent, you command anyone's attention."

And history just might be on RMLW's side: Those poll numbers are also close to where Proposition 215 was 16 years ago, before the nation's first medical marijuana laws were approved by a million vote margin in November 1996, Kubby noted. Those are also rosier numbers than 2010's Proposition 19 -- which earned more votes than former Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman -- enjoyed before its historic defeat.

It's still going to be an uphill climb: Organizers have 30,000 signatures thus far, a fraction of the 504,760 validated signatures from registered California voters needed to qualify Regulate Marijuana Like Wine for the ballot (closer to 750,000 or more are in reality needed, allowing for invalidated scribbles and other snafus). Nonetheless, the poll means several billionaires are at this moment crunching numbers and deciding whether to bankroll the initiatives, Kubby told SF Weekly Thursday.

Regulate Marijuana Like Wine is one of several ballot measures concerning marijuana in the signature-gathering process. If passed, it would remove from the California law books all criminal statutes related to marijuana for adults 21 or older. Another ballot initiative, Repeal Cannabis Prohibition, would also undo criminal penalties pertaining to marijuana. A third, the California Cannabis and Hemp Initiative of 2012, would go even further, but has yet to commission the poll necessary to attract heaps of cash.

Another ballot initiative, called the Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control and Taxation Act, is sponsored by labor union UFCW and Americans for Safe Access. It seems to have a good shot at gathering the necessary money and signatures, but creates an updated regulatory framework for medical marijuana, and does not address adult legalization.

About $1.5 million is needed to obtain the required 504,760 valid signatures -- if done a month before the April 20 deadline. If the signature-gathering is done in the final, crazy month -- when everyone vying for the ballot is employing any paid signature gatherers they can find -- signature-gathering firms' prices quadruple, meaning it could cost as much as $5 million, Kubby noted.

"Right now, three different billionaires have our numbers, and are reviewing them," said Kubby, who declined to name them -- though very moneyed men, among them liberal make-it-rainer George Soros, Progressive Auto Insurance Chairman Peter Lewis, Napster cofounder Sean Parker, and Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz, were tapped in 2010 for Prop 19. Are they willing to throw money after Regulate Marijuana Like Wine, too?


Lewis recently wrote an e-mail to cannabis activist Mickey Martin, who had asked Lewis for $1.5 million to fund a legalization ballot measure.

Lewis replied thusly:

"I have done considerable research which leads me to conclude that the time has not yet come for legalization. I believe that if the issue you want to pass isn't polling well above 60% in favor before the election, there is no chance to pass it. California is not there yet."

Is 62 percent enough for Lewis? Time will tell. In the meantime, the campaign is celebrating its poll numbers.

"Everyone, including the polling company, was shocked," Kubby said. "We owe a debt of gratitude to the United States attorneys, who pushed the voters this way with their ridiculous scare tactics. I can't think of anything better for our campaign."

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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