Marijuana Ballot Initiatives

Drug Warriors Start Pulling in Millions to Fight Marijuana Legalization

They're still outmatched by supporters (and the polls).


Patrick Kennedy
Johnny Louis/JL/Sipa USA/Newscom

Polls currently show that Californians are likely to vote in favor of marijuana legalization come November. Millions have been raised in support of the ballot measure, which includes—because this is California, we're talking about—a heavy regulation and taxation scheme. The best way to keep this state from resisting the free exchange of goods for money is to make sure its workers get a big chunk of it.

Initially, very little money had been collected to fight the measure, but that has changed, thanks to the legalization opponents at Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM). The Los Angeles Times today reports that SAM, founded by former Rep. Patrick Kennedy and former President Barack Obama drug policy advisor Kevin Sabet, has raised $2 million to fight California's measure, and also plans to fight initiatives in Maine, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Arizona.

Right now they're still outnumbered in California. The pro-legalization side is approaching $7 million in support. Prior to this round of fundraising, the opposition side (consisting mostly of law enforcement officials) had raised less than $200,000. Nevertheless, we've got three months to go, and plenty of time for anti-legalization media blitzes, which in SAM's case, consists of tying the marijuana industry to "big tobacco" and essentially arguing that legalization is bad because some people will make lots of money off of it. I always find it strange that arguing that people get rich off of selling people something that they want to buy is something that should be treated seriously, and even stranger that it actually works sometimes.

Their argument against legalization has a further grotesque twist. Kennedy and opponents of legalization in California—including the always terrible on individual liberty Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein—are attempting to argue that legalizing marijuana will lead to harm and discrimination directed to poor minority communities. They don't mean the drug war that we have right now. They are arguing that legalizing marijuana harms poor minority communities:

"It is putting our children at risk and has exposed children from communities of color to more racial discrimination than before," said Kennedy, who represented part of Rhode Island in Congress, about the legalization movement. He is the son of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy and the nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy.

In newly released ballot arguments, opponents said the measure would lead to more drugged-driving accidents and pot shops near schools.

"Proposition 64 is an all-out assault on underprivileged neighborhoods already reeling from alcohol and drug addiction problems," said the opposition argument, whose signers include U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Doug Villars, president of the California Assn. of Highway Patrolmen.

Compare this argument to Jacob Sullum's column posted this morning that shows enforcement of drug prohibition is what truly makes life miserable for poor minorities, especially black males. SAM favors some de-escalation of the drug war without legalization, but its forced civil court system and misdemeanors would still likely target poor minorities and force them into expensive programs that feed government and treatment systems. People will most certainly be getting rich off SAM's proposals, just not the same people as those in a legalization scheme.

SAM wouldn't say where the money was coming from, but did say it wasn't from law enforcement sources or casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who has fought other legalization efforts. Adelson is probably going to have his hands full this election trying to wrangle support for Donald Trump.