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Legalization Opponents Raise $2 Million to Fight Ballot Measures

Published on August 3, 2016 · Last updated July 28, 2020

Legalization has a lot of things going for it this November: public opinion, a growing body of public policy evidence, and — crucial to any ballot-box battle — a boatload of campaign cash. But on that last front, opponents are catching up: Anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) has raised more than $2 million to fight initiatives in five states this year.

The group was founded by former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, Atlantic senior editor David Frum, and Kevin Sabet, a former drug policy adviser to the Obama administration.

Much of the money is expected to be funneled to opponents of California’s Proposition 64, an adult-use measure that many feel could be a watershed in the nation’s legalization movement. “If there’s one thing we agree on with legalization advocates, it’s that California is important,” Sabet, who now serves as president of the group SAM Action, told the Los Angeles Times

It’s Official: Legalization in California is on November’s Ballot

It looks to be an uphill battle for prohibitionists in the Golden State, however. A Public Policy Institute of California poll from May found 60 percent of residents in favor of legalization. As far as war chests go, the Prop. 64 campaign has so far outraised opponents 40–1

“Unless the opposition is able to identify a very generous funding source, it’s difficult to see how they get their message out in a way that allows them to move public opinion,” Dan Schnur, director of the University of Southern California’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, told the Orange County Register prior to the announcement of SAM’s $2 million campaign bankroll. 

Even if SAM’s entire spend goes to California, the amount raised for anti-legalization efforts in the state would still pale in comparison to the pro-legalization push. As of Aug. 1, advocates for the measure had mustered more than $6.5 million. Opponents had cobbled together just $159,150, according to the Secretary of State’s office. 

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Nevertheless, SAM’s announcement is a sign that legalization opponents won’t give up without a fight. It comes just a week after nearly 100 organizations and public officials — primarily law enforcement — came out against Prop. 64, also known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. “You hear people say it’s not as bad as alcohol. But if you smoke marijuana and drive, it does impair you,” said George Hofstetter, president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs.

SAM Action is already the largest donor to the Coalition for Responsible Drug Policies, which opposes Prop. 64. The group has given $64,150, according to the Secretary of State. The top donors to the legalization campaign include Napster founder and former Facebook president Sean Parker, who’s given $2.27 million; Drug Policy Action, the advocacy arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, which has donated $1.75 million; and the group New Approach PAC, which has contributed $1.5 million.

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Ben Adlin
Ben Adlin
Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor who specializes in cannabis politics and law. He was a news editor for Leafly from 2015-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @badlin
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