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Marijuana legalization proposition pulling in high-dollar donations

October 7, 2010 |  5:48 pm

With the election less than a month away, the campaign to pass Proposition 19, the marijuana legalization initiative, is pulling in some high-dollar donations.

On Thursday, the owners of a natural soap company and a hemp clothing store announced a $100,000 contribution to pay for a voter registration drive aimed at California's college students. That followed a $100,000 donation made Monday by Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster, a former president of Facebook and now a venture capitalist.

David Bronner, the president of Escondido-based Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, announced the $100,000 donation to Students for Sensible Drug Policy in The Huffington Post. He put up $75,000 and the founders of Capitol Hemp in Washington, D.C., donated $25,000.

"Something like this will benefit everybody in America, and we just want to do our small part," said Alan Amsterdam, a co-owner of Capitol Hemp. "It'll trickle down to the rest of the states."

Bronner, who could not be reached for comment, wrote in an online column that his company buys 20 tons of hemp oil from Canada each year to create soap with smooth lather and a moist sensation. Growing hemp, a non-psychoactive version of marijuana, is illegal in the United States, but the California initiative would allow cities and counties to authorize cultivation.

"We hope to mobilize younger voters who are the primary victims of the war on cannabis," wrote Bronner, who is a co-owner of the company that his grandfather started in 1948.

Jonathan Perri, associate director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said the donation would help pay students to register other students to vote by the Oct. 18 deadline. Bronner also plans to donate use of the company's promotional firetruck to make visits to college campuses.

The initiative would make it legal for Californians 21 and older to grow and possess up to an ounce of marijuana. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger just signed a law that reduced the penalty for possession of an ounce from a misdemeanor to an infraction. It still carries a $100 fine.

The No on 19 campaign has not seen such sizable contributions, but continues to collect donations from law enforcement groups. Its largest donations so far are $30,000 from the California Police Chiefs Assn. and $25,000 from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.

Parker could not be reached for comment. He donated to the Drug Policy Action Committee, which is also running a campaign to pass the initiative. He joins fellow Facebook billionaire Dustin Moskovitz as a major supporter of Proposition 19. Moskovitz has given $70,000.

Bronner argued the initiative would save money now spent on the drug war and reduce violence in Mexico, and he urged other business leaders to step up.

"I want this donation to be a challenge to people who know that cannabis prohibition is a disfigurement of our democracy but have not contributed to Prop 19," he wrote.

The state's main business group, the Chamber of Commerce, has opposed the measure, saying it could lead to pot use in the workplace.

Bronner also cited the medical benefits of marijuana. He noted he has a friend who used it to survive Hepatitis C and whose dispensary was raided and closed by "drug war zealots." And he wrote, "Cannabis for me is a daily sacrament and communion that at the end of each day helps me get past my small petty self and find my moral center."

-- John Hoeffel