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Multibillionaire investor George Soros backs Proposition 19 [Updated]

October 25, 2010 |  6:51 pm

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George Soros, the multibillionaire investor who helped bankroll three initiatives to change drug laws in California, endorsed the marijuana legalization initiative Monday and plans to make a major financial contribution to the campaign.

Soros, who invested $3 million in the medical marijuana initiative and two other measures, made his announcement in an opinion piece published online by the Wall Street Journal. "Proposition 19 already is a winner no matter what happens on election day. The mere fact of its being on the ballot has elevated and legitimized public discourse about marijuana and marijuana policy in ways I could not have imagined a year ago," Soros wrote.  The article is scheduled to appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Soros, who runs a hedge fund and founded the Open Society Foundations, has not yet donated to the campaign. But Michael Vachon, an advisor to Soros, said that "he plans to make a significant contribution."

       Related: L.A. Sheriff will enforce pot laws even if Prop. 19 passes.

The initiative was the brainchild of Richard Lee, an Oakland medical marijuana entrepreneur who has spent at least $1.5 million to draft the measure, collect signatures to qualify it for the ballot and pay for a campaign. The wealthy donors who have helped to pay for past efforts to change California’s drug laws had largely stayed out of the campaign until the last few weeks.

Peter B. Lewis, a retired insurance company executive, recently donated $209,005 to the campaign, and George Zimmer, the founder and CEO of Men’s Wearhouse, recently gave $50,000. Both businessmen
supported past initiatives to change the state’s drug laws.

In his opinion piece, Soros said that the nation’s marijuana laws "are clearly doing more harm than good" at a cost of billions of dollars a year "to enforce this unenforceable prohibition."

Soros wrote that regulating and taxing marijuana would reduce the crime and violence linked to criminal drug gangs and violations of civil liberties "that occur when large numbers of otherwise law-abiding citizens are subject to arrest." He also noted that minorities are arrested at higher rates for marijuana crimes, creating arrest records that may follow them through life.

Although he endorsed Proposition 19, noting that it would allow recreational use and small-scale cultivation, Soros also suggested "its deficiencies can be corrected on the basis of experience." Besides allowing adults 21 and older to grow and possess marijuana, the initiative would allow cities and counties to authorize commercial cultivation, sales and taxation.

"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.

[Updated: He donate $1 million to help pass Proposition 19, the marijuana legalization measure, which he endorsed Monday as "a major step forward."

The donation makes Soros, who is the chairman of a hedge fund and who founded the Open Society Foundations, the largest donor to the campaign after Richard Lee, an Oakland medical marijuana entrepreneur, who has spent at least $1.5 million on the measure.]

-- John Hoeffel

Photo: AP

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