Facebook Billionaires, Dr. Bronner's Kick in the Money for Legal Pot in California

The campaign to pass California's Proposition 19, the tax and regulate marijuana legalization initiative, is seeing some good-sized late donations, including contributions from Facebook co-founders Dustin Moskovitz and Sean Parker. Meanwhile, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps heir David Bronner has kicked in tens of thousands more for a get out the vote effort in the campaign's final weeks. And they're not the only ones making sizeable late donations.Prop 19 would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot by adults 21 or older. It would also allow adults to grow up to 25 square feet of marijuana and possess the harvested results. It would give cities and counties the local option to allow, tax, and regulate commercial marijuana sales and cultivation.

The initiative holds a four-point lead in the Talking Points Memo Polltracker average of the 13 polls taken on it so far this year. Prop 19 has 47.4% in the poll average to 43.2% against, with less than 10% undecided. Only three of the 13 polls have shown it losing, but with support under 50%, voter turnout and the undecideds will be critical in achieving victory.

Moskovitz has now contributed a total of $70,000 to Prop 19, while Parker has given $100,000 to a pro-Prop 19 fund controlled by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). David Bronner is giving $75,000 to Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) for a tour of college campuses designed to energize student turnout, and Washington, DC, activist and entrepreneur Adam Eidinger of Capitol Hemp Clothing and Accessories kicked in another $25,000 for the campus tour.

Those aren’t the only big contributions to the cash-strapped campaign, which, despite having raised more than $2.1 million so far, only had $67,000 in the bank as of September 30. But according to late filing reports, in the first few days of this month the campaign got $20,000 from Oakland cannabis entrepreneur Jeff Willcox, a $50,000 donation from Tiburon retiree Stephen Silberstein, $5,000 from Prescription Vending Machines, Inc., and $75,000 from Encino TV producer Kevin Bright. Not counting the Bronner, Eidinger, Parker, and Moskovitz donations, Prop 19 has raised $180,000 so far this month.

"More than any other initiative out there, Prop 19 will stabilize our national security and bolster our state economy," said Moskovitz in a statement explaining his support. "It will alleviate unnecessary overcrowding of nonviolent offenders in our state jails, which in turn will help California residents."

"These donations mean that these guys get it," said Stephen Gutwillig, DPA California director, referring to the Facebook cofounders. "They are members of a generation that has a consensus that the drug war is a massive failure and will never work. These donors have the means to do something about it. We're really thrilled that they're stepping up in the middle of this crucial campaign that is a bellwether in the struggle to create an exit strategy from this disastrous war on marijuana," he said. "Sean Parker and Dustin Moskovitz are pivotal to this work in this election cycle, and we hope in years to come."

DPA will use the money for get out the vote efforts, said Gutwillig. "We'll be focusing on getting young and black and Latino voters to the polls," he explained. "We don't have enough money to mount a TV ad persuasion campaign aimed at undecided voters -- that takes millions of dollars in California. But this is enough money to participate in getting reform-minded voters to the polls, reminding them that Prop 19 is on the ballot and making sure they vote between now and November 2."

If the pro-Prop 19 forces don't have the money for a TV ad campaign, they can take some solace in knowing that the opposition doesn't, either -- at least not yet. The main opposition group, Public Safety First, reported only $54,000 in the bank as of September 30. But the Prop 19 forces are waiting for -- not hoping for -- the other shoe to drop. A late, well-funded negative ad campaign in 2008 helped to defeat a sentencing reform initiative that had been leading in the polls up to that point.

"I'm calling up businesses like ours that I know are socially and environmentally conscious with a simple message, 'Just Say Now;' now is the time to step up support," said Bronner. "Prop 19 will free up police for fighting real crimes and stop renegade cannabis cultivation by gangs that are destroying our national parks. Cannabis prohibition, not the herb itself, has been ruining productive and upstanding citizens' lives with courts and jails for decades," he said.

"I was hoping to trigger more giving with our donation, and the Facebook guys helped, too," said Bronner. "This is just such an important moment; there is so much at stake. It's about being able to promote and get our message across. It's about cannabis, but it's also about freedom," he said.

"This has been pretty under-funded," said Bronner. "Richard Lee put in enough money to get on the ballot, and now it comes to getting out the youth vote. SSDP is well-positioned to drive that and already had a game plan. We're just powering that up," he said.

Late last week, Bronner and SSDP announced the "Sound the Alarm to Vote Yes on Prop 19" tour of California college campuses, complete with Dr. Bronner's promotional fire truck, now known as the "Yes We Cannabis Fire Truck." The tour kicked off in San Diego last weekend, and will crisscross the state in the three weeks until Election Day -- this weekend it will be in the Bay Area for SSDP's regional conference in San Francisco.

"Young voters are the primary victims of the drug war and logically the largest group of supporters of Prop 19," said SSDP executive director Aaron Houston. "We plan to register thousands of students in the next 10 days and help many first time voters develop plans for Election Day. Meshing good old fashioned one-on-one on college campuses with mobile alert technology sums up our strategy to turn out young voters," he added.

SSDP had already planned a get out the vote effort in conjunction with Firedoglake's Just Say Now campaign, but will now expand that effort thanks to the Bronner and Eidinger donations. "We are ramping up our outreach to even more students thanks to the surprise support," Houston said.

It's just three weeks from Election Day. The race is tight. The final push is on, the energy level is high, and late donations can help make the difference.

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