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Outside Interests Finance Local Pro-Marijuana Effort


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Source: Anchorage Daily News (AK)
Author: Tataboline Brant, Anchorage Daily News
Published: October 7, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Anchorage Daily News 
Contact: [email protected] 

Initiative: Alaska group buys ads with $550,000 from D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project.

A group working to decriminalize marijuana in Alaska has been bankrolled by an Outside organization to the tune of half a million dollars, making it one of the best-funded ballot issue groups in state history, according to reports filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

Alaskans For Marijuana Regulation and Control has already spent most of the $551,227 buying airtime for radio and television ads, mailing brochures, paying staffers and conducting get-out-the-vote telephone pushes, according to the group's 30-day pre-election campaign disclosure report filed Monday.

All but $510 of the money came from the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, which is also funding pro-pot initiatives in other states this year. 

With 27 days to go until the Nov. 2 election, Alaskans For Marijuana Regulation and Control has already outspent nearly all the ballot issue groups in state and local elections dating back to 1997, APOC records show. Only three groups since 1997 have spent more: the Alaska Family Coalition spent about $617,000 in 1998 to push for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage; the Yes Committee spent $650,000 in 2002 on its campaign for a new convention center in Anchorage; and the Vote Yes! Committee spent almost $700,000 in 1999 to push for using part of the Permanent Fund to balance the state budget. Only the same-sex marriage measure won voter approval.

The fund raising is further evidence the legalization campaign this year is more sophisticated than a similar, unsuccessful effort in 2000.

Alaskans For Marijuana Regulation and Control has about 55 times the amount of money as the only organized opposition to Ballot Measure 2: Alaskans Against the Legalization of Marijuana/Hemp.

That group, which fought against legalization efforts in 2000, has about $10,000 in its coffers, according to its APOC report.

Matthew Fagnani, president of the local drug-testing firm WorkSafe Inc. and chairman of the opposition group, declined to discuss his group's campaign strategy. He said he's working with about half a dozen people to defeat Ballot Measure 2, which he said would have "grave social ramifications" on Alaska if it passes.

The initiative would make it legal under state law for people 21 and older to grow, use, sell or give away marijuana. It would also allow for state regulation and taxation of marijuana similar to alcohol or tobacco and for laws limiting use in public and to protect public safety.

"I think Alaskans need to be aware that this initiative is clearly supported and financed by Outside interests that have very little to do with Alaska," Fagnani said in an interview Monday. "They're trying to make Alaska a poster child for the rest of the nation."

Bruce Mirken, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said if the measure passes, "it could be a signal of larger changes to come around the country." But even if it fails, he said, it's still a step in the right direction for stimulating a discussion on marijuana policy that the nation needs to have. 

"This is nothing we came up with and got on the ballot," Mirken said. "This was a totally homegrown campaign."

Mirken said his organization has about 15,000 dues-paying members, including some in Alaska. One of those members is Ohio billionaire Peter B. Lewis, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. This year Lewis donated $485,000 to MPP, as well as $2.5 million to the anti-war, anti-Bush online advocacy group and about $3 million to a similar organization, America Coming Together. 

Mirken said a big part of what the MPP does "is support local activists who have ideas but maybe not a lot of resources."

The Marijuana Policy Project has spent comparable amounts of money as in Alaska on other statewide marijuana initiatives in Nevada, Oregon and Montana, Mirken said, although he didn't have exact figures.

According to the Billings, Mont., Gazette, the MPP spent about $197,000 as of mid-September on a campaign there to legalize the use of medical marijuana -- something Alaska voters did in 1998.

The Statesman Journal in Salem, Ore., recently reported that the MPP spent about $476,000 as of Sept. 16 on a campaign there to expand access to medical marijuana. 

It was not clear how much money the organization spent in Nevada. An initiative there, similar to the one Alaskans will vote on next month, failed to make it to the ballot after a signature snafu. Supporters are already gearing up to get it on the 2006 ballot, Mirken said.

Mirken did not know how much money his organization contributed to the failed legalization efforts in Alaska in 2000. "It certainly was not the sort of sizable support we're doing this year," he said.

That initiative, which was turned down by about 60 percent of voters, also aimed to decriminalize pot, but the age limit included in the measure was younger: 18. It also wanted the government to set free some jail inmates convicted of marijuana crimes and set up a commission to consider restitution to them. 

"It overreached a bit," Mirken said -- a sentiment expressed by people on both sides of the issue.

This time around, proponents have stripped down their demands on voters to make the measure more appealing. They also have some prominent figures on their side: an associate biomedical professor, a former deputy commissioner of corrections and a former attorney for the Republican Party of Alaska.

Some opponents of legalization have expressed worry about the professional nature of the campaign, but Fagnani said he has faith the measure will fail despite "misleading" ads by proponents.

Some of the ads -- there are four, two radio and two television -- portray Ballot Measure 2 as a privacy issue, the argument being that Alaskans have a constitutional right to use small amounts of pot in the privacy of their own home and that despite this, the government still spends "millions" to enforce prohibition. 

"If the privacy of your home isn't respected now, then what's next?" one radio ad asks. "Will they be at your door demanding to know if you have cigarettes in your home? Or alcohol? Or guns? Don't let this be the future for Alaska."

Other ads portray the measure as a public policy issue, saying the government's drug war has failed, that too many kids can get their hands on pot and that Alaska needs to try something new, like regulation. 

Fagnani doesn't buy the arguments: "If this initiative passes, Alaska will have more social problems than they currently have with alcohol or tobacco," he said. "I would rely on the intelligence of the voters to read the initiative very carefully and come to the conclusion that this is not a good policy."

Alaskans For Marijuana Regulation and Control is working with two main groups locally: Yes on 2 and Alaskans for Rights and Revenues. 

Yes on 2 has raised close to $21,000 to date, according to its APOC report. Most of those donations were nonmonetary covering such things as office space and utilities. About $1,300 was in cash or checks from 21 individuals, all but two of them Alaskans.

Alaskans for Rights and Revenues has raised about $1,655, according to its treasurer, Tim Hinterberger, an associate professor at the biomedical program at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Most of those were individual donations, he said. The largest single one, for $975, was from the Texas-based Foundation for Constitutional Protection.

Alaskans for Marijuana Regulation and Control has already spent more than $300,000 on radio and television spots. 

David Finkelstein, a former state legislator and the paid treasurer for the group, said that's probably it for the television ads, which are scheduled to air through Election Day. But, he said, "We have a lot of potential for expansion in print and radio."

There are no limits under state law on how much can be contributed to ballot issue groups.

Text of Ballot Measure 2

This bill would remove civil and criminal penalties under state law for persons 21 years or older who grow, use, sell or give away marijuana or hemp products. State or local government could not require a permit or license for personal cultivation or distribution of marijuana, but could regulate marijuana like alcohol or tobacco. It removes all existing state restrictions on prescription of marijuana by a doctor for all patients, including children. It allows for laws limiting marijuana use in public and to protect public safety.

Ballot Measure 2: Marijuana

To view legalization ads  in Alaska:

Also Online:

Yes on 2:
Marijuana Policy Project:

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Alaskans to Vote on Pot Legalization in '04

Alaska Court: Drug Ban Unconstitutional 




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