Out-of-state money financing marijuana campaigns

By Leia Larsen and Katharina Bucholz

CU News Corps for I-News

Colorados ballot initiative to legalize marijuana possession is billed by one leading local advocate as a grassroots effort here on the ground, but an examination of contributions to the campaign tell a different story.

Contribution records from the Colorado Secretary of States office show that the four registered committees supporting legalization collected more than $1.4 million through Sept. 12, with more than $1.2 million coming from outside Colorado.

They have an incredible amount of money, said Floyd Ciruli, analyst at the polling firm Ciruli Associates. It primarily came from out of state.

Ciruil said Colorado is among other Western states that have a little more libertarian attitude, making them fertile ground for laws that would legalize various behaviors like drugs.

The top campaign contributor to Colorados Amendment 64 is the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.,based lobbying group that has donated more than $1.1 million. According to the groups website, it has more than 124,000 members and supporters.

Other top donors supporting the proposition include the Drug Policy Action Alliance, a national lobbying group, ($90,000); the California-based company Dr. Bronners Magic Soaps ($50,000); and Lawrence Hess of San Diego ($30,000).

Mason Tvert, co-director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol and a long-time marijuana advocate in the state, said most of the pro-initiative work is being done by Coloradans. This is a grassroots effort here on the ground. We have individuals canvassing their neighborhoods all across the state. Were confident well continue to see support grow.

Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in an email that the big spending should help. The financial backing that the campaign has gathered so far will ensure that it is able to get its message out to voters far more effectively than the opposition, which will certainly be a benefit.

Polling indicates that support for the measure may be wavering, however.

A Rasmussen Pollsters survey conducted in June indicated that 61 percent of voters would vote in favor or marijuana legalization. A poll conducted by Public Policy Polling in late August and early September showed 47 percent in favor, 38 percent opposed and 15 percent uncertain.

This latest survey is more sobering, Ciruli said. It suggests to me that while they have the advantage of money, and I do think they have an argument, theres an uphill battle. Theres a tendency for the positive vote to have attrition due to attacks, second thoughts, a variety of things.

Gov. John Hickenlooper issued a statement last week opposing Amendment 64. Colorado is known for many great things marijuana should not be one of them,he said. Amendment 64 has the potential to increase the number of children using drugs and would detract from efforts to make Colorado the healthiest state in the nation. It sends the wrong message to kids that drugs are OK.

  • I-News Network, in conjunction with MapLight, a national non-profit organization tracking campaign financing, is following Amendment 64 and other Colorado ballot measures on its VotersEdgeColorado website, votersedge.org/Colorado.The site offers quick access to details about ballot initiatives, links to news stories, campaign ads and funding information, including donors.

Only one group, Smart Colorado: Vote No on 64, is registered to campaign against the measure. Smart Colorado had raised $194,000 through Sept. 12, and most of its money also came from out of state.

Florida-based Save our Society from Drugs contributed $151,497 of the total. The group also funded opposition to a 2006 Colorado legalization attempt. The organization did not respond to phone calls and emails for comment.

Tverts organization is the official campaign driving the initiative.

If approved by Colorado voters, Amendment 64 will make it legal for those 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana. It also would create a regulatory system for marijuana similar to that of alcohol. And it would allow cultivation and sale of industrial hemp. Federal laws, however, still would outlaw marijuana possession and use.

Washington and Oregon have similar amendments on their November ballots. Another ballot measure failed in California in 2010, with 53.5 percent of Californians opposing legalization and taxation of marijuana.

Another pro-legalization advocacy group, Citizens for Responsible Legalization, collected $779,000 last fall, almost all of it from Peter Lewis, an Ohio man who founded Progressive Insurance. The group spent the money on television ads and research in the Colorado Springs area before disbanding at the start of this year. Tvert said the group isnt affiliated with the current initiative

The I-News Network is a nonprot newsroom collaborating with Colorado news organizations to cover important issues. Learn more at iNewsNetwork.org