Lots of money is coming into Washington to influence the marijuana legalization battle, most of it from outside the state and almost all of it in support of I-502, the decriminalization initiative.
According to the Public Dislcosure Commission, the No on I-502 campaign has raised a little more than $4,000 so far. New Approach Washington, the group supporting I-502, has raised more than $5.4 million.
That means the “Yes” folks are outraising the “No” folks by more than a thousand to one.
If I-502 is approved, it would create what the Washington voters’ guide calls "a closed, highly regulated industry that does not presently exist anywhere.”
This would represent major change -- more than just being able to roll and smoke a joint at Alki Beach without fear of getting busted. Under the initiative, the state of Washington would approve and license pot growers and packagers, set standards for quality and potency, select and monitor marijuana-only retail outlets, and tax the drug at every level. Nearly all of this activity would be in contravention of current federal law.
Recent polling shows I-502 has a good chance of passing. KING 5’s most recent poll shows 55 percent of voters supporting the measure, 36 percent against and about 8 percent still.
The state Public Disclosure Commission website shows the biggest donors in support of passing I-502 are big-name, deep-pockets, out-of-staters. About half of the $5 million raised for the campaign came from two sources: Peter Lewis, the billionaire founder of Progressive Insurance, and the George Soros-backed Drug Policy Alliance.
Lewis has used medical marijuana for years to battle the pain of an amputated leg and has given generously to marijuana legalization efforts in many states. So far he has given $1.9 million to the cause here in Washington. The DPA, meanwhile, has donated more than $1.6 million to support I-502.
Rick Steves -- the Edmonds resident and, more famously, host of public TV's Europe Through the Backdoor travel series -- is a longtime supporter of easing marijuana laws. So far he has donated $350,000.
Filling out the top five, James Swift of Kirkland has donated $210,000, and the ACLU of Washington has rolled in $192,000. (The Swift family is connected with the Riverstyx Foundation in Kirkland.)
“Usually, you can follow the money on initiatives and it leads to profits,” said pollster and UW political science instructor Matt Barreto. But that doesn’t seem to be the case with I-502.
Barreto, whose poll numbers on I-502 closely match KING 5’s, said the big-hitters and big-spenders may have been drawn to the pot legalization battle here because of Washington’s reputation for supporting controversial social-change initiatives (medical marijuana, death with dignity, gay rights) and the positive voter response showing the measure has a chance to win. A similar effort in Oregon is polling poorly and has raised comparatively little money.
“It looks like right now we just have some wealthy individuals who are sort of progressive and liberal and just believe in this issue and that’s who's funded this," Barreto said.
Despite polls showing the initiative leading, experts like Barreto said it's too soon to call the race.
“Whether that will materialize on election day? Will everyone check that box on their ballot? I don’t know," Barreto said.