Pubdate: Tue,  5 Nov 2002
Source: USA Today (US)
Copyright: 2002 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc
Author: Donna Leinwand
Cited: Campaign for New Drug Policies ( )
Cited: Drug Policy Alliance ( )
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project ( )
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Lewis, Peter)
Bookmark: (Soros, George)
Bookmark: (Sperling, John)
Bookmark: (Question 9 (NV))
(Nevadans for Responsible Law Enforcement)


Two billionaires and a multimillionaire are bankrolling campaigns to
legalize or decrease penalties for marijuana in three states and Washington,

Purported grass-roots campaigns in Nevada, Ohio, Arizona and the District of
Columbia are being run by political advocacy firms in New York and
Washington, D.C., with money from financier George Soros and University of
Phoenix founder John Sperling, billionaires both, and multimillionaire Peter
Lewis, retired CEO of Progressive Insurance.

Opponents say their posse of soccer moms, anti-drug groups and police
officials cannot raise the money to counter the proponents' professional
media campaign.

''It could be Nevada today and Anytown, USA, tomorrow,'' says Sandy Heverly,
director of STOP DUI, the main opposition group in Nevada. ''Their ultimate
goal is to legalize drugs everywhere.''

Recent polls indicate the ballot measures, to be decided today, are a tossup
in Arizona, Ohio and Nevada. In Washington, polls show voters favor the

* Arizona's ballot measure asks whether to require state police to
distribute up to 2 ounces of marijuana per month to people with a
registration card for medical marijuana and whether to remove criminal
penalties for possession of up to 2 ounces.

* Nevada's measure asks whether to make it legal for adults to possess as
much as 3 ounces of marijuana and require a legally regulated marijuana

* Ohio and Washington ballot measures call for treatment instead of jail for
people arrested for marijuana possession.

The ballot initiatives are part of a nationwide strategy essentially run by
two groups, the Drug Policy Alliance in New York and the Marijuana Policy
Project in Washington, and funded by the three men. Although they have
chosen local battlegrounds, the larger enemy is the federal ''war on

''We're trying to do this on a state level to put pressure on Congress to do
something,'' says Bill Zimmerman, executive director for the Campaign for
New Drug Policies, which funds and advises the Ohio and Washington
initiatives. ''Drug policy is not a local issue. It's a national issue.''

Drug Policy Alliance, a group funded heavily by Soros, and the Marijuana
Policy Project, funded by Lewis, say they are merely giving a helping hand
to popular movements. To jump-start the campaigns, the groups form a
political action organization and hire a professional firm that drafts the
petition and deploys paid workers to collect signatures.

In Ohio, Soros, Sperling and Lewis each donated $271,276, state records
show. Richard Wolfe, a media mogul from Los Angeles, donated $200,000 toward
the initial petition drive to get the question on the ballot. The money went
to Progressive Campaigns Inc. of Santa Monica, Calif., a professional
political campaign and petition management group.

Zimmerman says getting signatures in populous states is far too difficult to
do with volunteers. ''It takes dozens of people working full-time to get the

Of $1.6 million raised by the initiative group Nevadans for Responsible Law
Enforcement, just $184,000 came from 4,000 small donors, the group's Web
site shows. In Arizona, Soros donated $406,467, and Sperling, who lives in
Phoenix, donated $590,383.

The organizations do not apologize for their big-money backers.

''These are three guys who believe the war on drugs is a gross human rights
abuse in the United States,'' says Ethan Nadelmann, director of the Drug
Policy Alliance.

Despite their cash, the pro-marijuana groups say they are the underdogs.
Their opponent, they say, is not local parent groups but a U.S. government
that funds hundreds of anti-drug TV messages.

In Nevada, where the anti-marijuana group has raised $150,000, the groups
vow to prevail despite being outspent. Using parsley, the opponents have
rolled fake marijuana cigarettes to give voters a sense of 3 ounces. ''For
every dollar they have, we can match it with passion and parsley and people,
real people,'' Heverly says.
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MAP posted-by: Doc-Hawk