Marijuana legalization wars: Follow the money edition

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Paul Danish/Sue France

good way to gauge where things stand in the marijuana legalization wars a week before Election Day is to follow the money. And the latest polls, of course.

There are limitations to this approach. Trying to predict the outcome of an election by polling a week or less before the voting ends is a lot like trying to predict how a road trip is going to end by looking out the back window of the car. Ditto with following the money. The financial disclosure reports published, say, 10 days before Election Day don’t tell you how much will be contributed and spent before the polls close.

That said, here’s how things stood about a week ago.

According to an October 26 story in the Washington Post, the biggest contributor to the anti-marijuana legalization effort is — as expected — casino owner Sheldon Adelson.

Adelson has contributed $2 million to fight Nevada’s legalization initiative, $500,000 to the Arizona anti-legalization initiative, $1 million to the anti-pot effort in Massachusetts, and $1 million to fight the medical marijuana legalization measure in Florida.

Chances are he’s not done giving.

But there’s one vote no campaign he hasn’t contributed to: California’s. That’s probably because the pro-legalization side has out-raised the opponents by roughly 10 to 1, and the legalization initiative, Proposition 64, has maintained a double-digit lead in the polls.

The largest contributor to the Prop 64 campaign is Sean Parker, Napster founder and the first president of Facebook. He’s directed at least $8.8 million toward the effort.

The biggest contributor to the anti-Prop 64 effort in California is Julie Schauer, a retired east- coast art professor, who gave $1.4 million to SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), the anti-legalization group founded by former Congressman and recovering poly-substance abuser Patrick Kennedy. Her contribution was intended to oppose legalization in three states, with most going to California.

The Nevada anti-legalization effort is also getting financial support from some of Adelson’s fellow casino magnates. South Point Hotel Casino and Spa, MGM Resorts International and Boyd Gaming are listed among the top five contributors.

In Arizona, two contributors to the anti-effort other than Adelson stand out: Insys Therapeutics, a pain-killer manufacturer that’s developing a drug based on a synthetic version of THC, gave $500,000, and Discount Tire, a Nevada-based business, kicked in $1 million.

In addition to the Marijuana Policy Project and other pro-legalization groups, financial support for legalization in both Nevada and Arizona is coming from medical marijuana business interests.

Perhaps the most interesting heavy hitter in an anti-legalization effort is the Archdiocese of Boston, which poured $850,000 into the anti-legalization campaign in Massachusetts last week.

The sudden entry of the Archdiocese, whose contribution represents a 50-percent increase in the anti-legalization war chest, may reflect the fact that while polling in Massachusetts shows pro-legalization leading 49-42 percent (according to a Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll released a week ago), support is down from an earlier poll that showed it with a 15 point lead.

Just guessing here, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the Archdiocese had a behind-the-scenes role in getting Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh to organize opposition to the legalization initiative in the first place.

Legalization in Massachusetts seems a close run, but the relatively low 42 percent opposed number suggests it has a reasonable chance of prevailing.

Adelson’s $1 million bet in Florida doesn’t seem to be buying the anti-campaign a lot of traction. A poll released early last week showed support for legalizing medical marijuana in Florida at 71 percent. The initiative, in the form of a state constitutional amendment, needs 60 percent to pass.

The opposition’s best shot at killing a legalization initiative is in Arizona, where a mid-October poll by independent pollster Data Orbital showed Prop 205, the legalization initiatve, trailing by a 44-45 percent margin. Since support for initiatives tends to fall off closer to the election, legalization in Arizona is in trouble.

The situation in Nevada is a bit better —Proposition 2 is leading 47-43 percent, with a 3 percent drop in opposition from a month earlier. But passage is still a touch-and-go deal.

Maine is the one state where legalization hasn’t stirred up much opposition. Pro-legalization forces have raised $1.3 million to the anti-camp’s $79,000, and the initiative was leading by 9 points in a poll conducted last week. With only 40 percent opposed, legalization in Maine seems likely to pass.