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Soros donates $1m to campaign for marijuana

Associated Press / October 27, 2010

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SAN FRANCISCO — Billionaire financier George Soros has thrown his weight behind California’s marijuana legalization measure with a $1 million donation a week before the vote.

The contribution reported yesterday by The Sacramento Bee is the single biggest donation from an individual other than Proposition 19’s main sponsor, Oakland medical marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee.

The high-profile liberal has long backed a drug law overhaul. He was one of the top financial backers of California’s first-in-the-nation measure that legalized medical marijuana in 1996.

But Soros held off on openly endorsing the current measure until publishing an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal yesterday. In the piece, Soros said legalizing and taxing marijuana would save taxpayers the costs of incarceration and law enforcement while raising revenue for the state.

“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,’’ Soros wrote.

On Monday, the Yes on 19 campaign had launched its first television ad. The No campaign also recently took to the airwaves with a radio ad sponsored by the California Chamber of Commerce, arguing the law would threaten workplace safety and harm the state’s economy.

Until now, neither side in the ballot measure contest has seen a huge outpouring of cash.

High-profile donations to Proposition 19 include $50,000 from George Zimmer, Men’s Wearhouse chief executive, and $70,000 from Peter Thiel, Paypal co-founder, according to campaign finance records.