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Not too little, but maybe too late as billionaire George Soros backs Prop 19

by Chris Hinyub, published

Billionaire investor and Obama campaign contributor, George Soros has thrown his weight behind Proposition 19, doling out $1 million to marijuana legalization advocates on Tuesday. The donation triples the Yes on 19 war chest and comes at a crucial time when the measure has lost its edge in the polls.


Soros has long been a proponent of loosening drug laws. In a recent Wall Street Journal Op-ed he explains why he supports Prop. 19, calling for effective education rather than ineffective arrests and incarcerations.


Yes on 19 committee spokeswoman, Dale Sky Jones says the contribution is better late than never. Legalization advocates aired their first cable TV ad Tuesday which targeted voters in the Los Angeles area. They say they plan to expand coverage of the commercial (featuring a former San Jose police chief) to Chico, Fresno and Bakersfield with Soros's cash infusion.


In contrast, the California Chamber of Commerce has spent $317,500 on radio ads in Sacramento, San Diego and Los Angeles to oppose the measure. The Drug Policy Alliance, a national advocacy group heading up the Yes on 19 campaign committee, now has about $1.5 million to spend in the final week of their campaign.


Even with large sums donated by law enforcement organizations, the opposition committee has trailed far behind in contributions. As of mid-October, the No on 19 campaign had $47,000 and has since raised $93,000. Legalization opponents are running radio ads in Redding and Chico.


"We've been outspent on this campaign from Day 1, and the more they spend, it seems like the lower they go in the polls," said Roger Salazar, a No on 19 spokesman. Salazar is referencing the fact that Proposition 19 entertained a lead in voter polls until recent months. Currently, both sides are statistically tied according to some surveys, with opponents edging out supporters in others.


According to the Los Angeles Times:


     “The proponents held a teleconference Tuesday with four former police officers who said enforcing marijuana laws wastes time that officers could devote to serious crimes, and creates a black market that fuels drug gangs.”


Both campaign's are highlighting law enforcement support. Though 28 law enforcement veterans have endorsed the initiative, every state law enforcement organization that has taken a position, opposes it.


The Drug Policy Alliance has always held that reforming marijuana laws is a civil rights issue. The organization released several reports showing that minorities are disproportionately targeted in marijuana related arrests. We've reported on one such study which showed blacks are almost 3 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites. This research prompted the NAACP and the National Black Police Association to endorse Proposition 19 as an end to discrimination of minorities by policy enforcers.


As was reported by Los Angeles Times, the Drug Policy Alliance showcased a new study on Wednesday that:


      “found Latinos were arrested on misdemeanor marijuana possession charges more often than whites in 33 California cities between 2006 and 2008...the disparity was highest in Pasadena, with Latinos arrested 2.9 times more than whites, followed by Santa Monica and Alhambra at 2.7 times. In Los Angeles, the rate is twice as high for Latinos.”

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