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Chris Sabet

Could Legalization Opponents Outspend Supporters?

So far, at least, the numbers are stark: Activists pushing to legalize marijuana for recreation in California have raised more than $9 million to fund their ballot campaign. Opponents, meanwhile, haven’t come close to that number.

But now a national anti-cannabis group says that’s about to change. Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) is a national lobbying group run by longtime reform opponents Kevin Sabet and Patrick Kennedy, a former congressman. Now Sabet says SAM is hauling in money to spend against the legalization effort.

As of late July, reformers in California had brought in $9.3 million in donations, while the opposition had raised jut $160,000. That kind of deficit would make it nearly impossible for opponents to stop the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, the initiative that will appear on the November statewide ballot.

The AUMA is expected to pass

If the AUMA passes, it would be legal for adults 21 or older to buy, possess, and use up to an ounce of marijuana for recreation. The drug has been legal as medicine since 1996. Recent polls show the initiative is almost certain to pass on Election Day Nov. 8.

But Sabet insists SAM has a good chance of stopping the ballot proposal. The organization recently raised more than $2 million for anti-reform efforts across the country, Sabet said. Some of that money, he said, will go toward advertising in the Golden State.

“The ballot initiatives in California, Arizona, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Maine usher in massive commercialization of kid-friendly marijuana products,” Sabet said. “They go way beyond just legalization for adults’ personal use.”

Reformers have majority support

The announcement is unlikely to put much of a scare into the pro-legalization community. Activists have public support on their side, and Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed a new law that imposes regulations on a famously lawless medical marijuana system – regulations that would ease the birth of a new legal market for recreational pot.

Sean Parker
Sean Parker heads the AUMA legalization initiative.

But Sabet was unclear on how much of the $2 million would be spent in California. “We don’t know yet,” he told LA Weekly in July.

“The multi-million dollar commitment represents the single largest fundraising amount ever dedicated to fighting the legalization of non-medical marijuana via ballot initiative,” SAM said in a press release.

Legal cannabis will likely be on the ballot in at least half a dozen states this year, and stopping even one of them with just $2 million is a tall order. But Sabet insists SAM will bring in enough to cover the cost of maintaining pot prohibition.

Supporters of the legalization initiative, headed by tech billionaire Sean Parker, said they expect to raise between $12 million and $20 million, most of which will pay for television and Internet advertising leading up to Election Day. Parker’s group may even buy ads in Spanish.

SAM said its donations were coming strictly from individual contributors and that “none of this money was donated by corporations, corporate interest groups, or people acting on their behalf.”

Comment below: How much would SAM have to spend to convince Californians to reject legal marijuana Nov. 8?

About Matt Brooks

Based in San Francisco, Matt is a journalist who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than five years. He provides regular news coverage on marijuanaandthelaw.com and californiamarijuanamarket.com.

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