Proposition 19 Campaign Gets $1 Million Donation From George Soros

George Soros, the multibillionaire investor, will donate $1 million to help pass Proposition 19, the marijuana legalization measure, which he endorsed Monday as "a major step forward."

The donation makes Soros, who is the chairman of a hedge fund and who founded the Open Society Foundations, the largest donor to the campaign after Richard Lee, an Oakland medical marijuana entrepreneur, who has spent at least $1.5 million on the measure.

It provides a huge lift to the Yes on 19 campaign, which had raised about $2.4 million by mid-October, as it launched cable television advertising Tuesday in the Los Angeles area.

Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, one of the nation’s main advocates for reforming drug laws, confirmed the planned contribution on Tuesday.

"There’s no way to know what this means in terms of George Soros’ future commitments," he said, "but I for one hope that he will end up making the same commitment to broader marijuana law reform as he has since the mid-1990s to medical marijuana."

Soros has donated about $3 million to help pass three California initiatives, including the state’s 1996 measure to allow the use of marijuana for medical reasons.

Proposition 19, which would allow adults 21 and older to grow and possess marijuana, was Lee’s brainchild, and he has been the principal donor and spokesman for the cause. The wealthy donors who had bankrolled past efforts to change California’s drug laws were not involved in the campaign at the beginning and had largely stayed on the sidelines until the last few weeks.

Peter B. Lewis, a retired insurance company executive, recently donated $209,005, and George Zimmer, the founder and CEO of Men’s Wearhouse, donated $50,000. Zimmer had earlier donated $20,500. Both businessmen have supported past initiatives to soften the state’s drug laws, including the medical marijuana initiative.

Soros announced his support for the initiative, which would also allow cities and counties to authorize commercial cultivation and sales, in an opinion piece that was published online Monday evening by the Wall Street Journal. He called for marijuana to be regulated and taxed.

"Proposition 19 already is a winner no matter what happens on Election Day," he wrote. "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."

- Article from The Los Angeles Times.


Why I Support Legal Marijuana

by George Soros, The Wall Street Journal

We should invest in effective education rather than ineffective arrest and incarceration.

Our marijuana laws are clearly doing more harm than good. The criminalization of marijuana did not prevent marijuana from becoming the most widely used illegal substance in the United States and many other countries. But it did result in extensive costs and negative consequences.

Law enforcement agencies today spend many billions of taxpayer dollars annually trying to enforce this unenforceable prohibition. The roughly 750,000 arrests they make each year for possession of small amounts of marijuana represent more than 40% of all drug arrests.

Regulating and taxing marijuana would simultaneously save taxpayers billions of dollars in enforcement and incarceration costs, while providing many billions of dollars in revenue annually. It also would reduce the crime, violence and corruption associated with drug markets, and the violations of civil liberties and human rights that occur when large numbers of otherwise law-abiding citizens are subject to arrest. Police could focus on serious crime instead.

The racial inequities that are part and parcel of marijuana enforcement policies cannot be ignored. African-Americans are no more likely than other Americans to use marijuana but they are three, five or even 10 times more likely—depending on the city—to be arrested for possessing marijuana. I agree with Alice Huffman, president of the California NAACP, when she says that being caught up in the criminal justice system does more harm to young people than marijuana itself. Giving millions of young Americans a permanent drug arrest record that may follow them for life serves no one's interests.

Racial prejudice also helps explain the origins of marijuana prohibition. When California and other U.S. states first decided (between 1915 and 1933) to criminalize marijuana, the principal motivations were not grounded in science or public health but rather in prejudice and discrimination against immigrants from Mexico who reputedly smoked the "killer weed."

Who most benefits from keeping marijuana illegal? The greatest beneficiaries are the major criminal organizations in Mexico and elsewhere that earn billions of dollars annually from this illicit trade—and who would rapidly lose their competitive advantage if marijuana were a legal commodity. Some claim that they would only move into other illicit enterprises, but they are more likely to be weakened by being deprived of the easy profits they can earn with marijuana.

This was just one reason the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy—chaired by three distinguished former presidents, Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, César Gaviria of Colombia and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico—included marijuana decriminalization among their recommendations for reforming drug policies in the Americas.

Like many parents and grandparents, I am worried about young people getting into trouble with marijuana and other drugs. The best solution, however, is honest and effective drug education. One survey after another indicates that teenagers have better access than most adults to marijuana—and often other drugs as well—and find it easier to buy marijuana than alcohol. Legalizing marijuana may make it easier for adults to buy marijuana, but it can hardly make it any more accessible to young people. I'd much rather invest in effective education than ineffective arrest and incarceration.

California's Proposition 19, which would legalize the recreational use and small-scale cultivation of marijuana, wouldn't solve all the problems connected with the drug. But it would represent a major step forward, and its deficiencies can be corrected on the basis of experience. Just as the process of repealing national alcohol prohibition began with individual states repealing their own prohibition laws, so individual states must now take the initiative with respect to repealing marijuana prohibition laws. And just as California provided national leadership in 1996 by becoming the first state to legalize the medical use of marijuana, so it has an opportunity once again to lead the nation.

In many respects, of course, Proposition 19 already is a winner no matter what happens on Election Day. 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.

These are the reasons I have decided to support Proposition 19 and invite others to do so.

Mr. Soros is chairman of Soros Fund Management and founder of the Open Society Foundations.

- Article from The Wall Street Journal.

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