Lots of buzz on pot, but where’s the money?

The marijuana legalization measure on California’s ballot this November is creating a lot of buzz, but not attracting a lot of money pro or con – at least, not yet – new campaign finance reports show.

marijuana moneyTax Cannabis 2010, the main committee supporting Proposition 19 raised more than $426,000 in the year’s first half (including about $214,000 in April, May and June) and spent about $426,000 in the year’s first half) including about ($212,000 in the second quarter) to finish with just $62,000 cash on hand as of June 30, according to a campaign finance report filed today. It has reported no major contributions since that date.

But that cash on hand is still more than three times the not quite $19,000 in the bank at mid-year for Public Safety First, the law enforcement and business coalition opposing the measure. That committee’s report raised $41,000 and spent more than $33,000 in the second quarter. Since the end of the reporting period, this committee has reported raising another $20,500 from the California Narcotics Officers Association.

Another committee created to support the measure – the Drug Policy Action Committee to Tax and Regulate Marijuana – had $100,000 ready to go as of mid-year, records show. That committee is funded solely by Philip Harvey of Chapel Hill, N.C., who described himself as president of DKT International, a nonprofit promoting family planning and HIV/AIDS prevention through social marketing in 16 countries around the world – the largest private provider of contraceptives and family planning services in the developing world. He’s also president and majority shareholder of PHE, also known as Adam & Eve, a mail-order business that sells sexually oriented books and films.

By comparison, the committee supporting Proposition 27 – which would eliminate the citizens redistricting commission created by Proposition 8 of 2008, putting all legislative reapportionment authority back in the Legislature’s hands – reported having more than $477,000 cash on hand as of June 30, having raised $3.3 million and spent more than $2.8 million in the year’s first half. That’s a lot more money changing hands over a ballot measure that admittedly would have more impact on California’s governance, but hasn’t attracted a fraction of the attention that marijuana legalization has.

Prop. 19 proponent Richard Lee told me in June, after he’d spent about $1.4 million out of his own pocket to put the measure on the ballot, that he was basically tapped out and would bankroll it no further. “We hope to raise $10 million, $10 each from a million people,” Lee said at the time, acknowledging that’s not much for a California ballot measure but arguing a little will go a long way on the issue. “Our numbers go way up when we explain the issues and the measure in depth.”

That was just a few weeks before the end of this reporting period, so if that grassroots (pun most definitely intended) fundraising strategy is kicking in, we might not see it yet. But I have doubts about whether the extensive outreach the campaign is doing at little cost through social media will translate into actual dollars, or actual votes. Even if it does, $10 million wouldn’t be much for a ballot measure campaign that’s hovering at about 50 percent popularity; the general wisdom is that a measure has to start out with much more solid support in order to finish on top come Election Day.

UPDATE @ 5:30 P.M.: This statement just in from Public Safety First spokeswoman Lindsay Martin:

“It appears that the fundraising efforts of the pro-marijuana folks have gone up in smoke just like support for the initiative. Our fundraising and outreach efforts have just started and with more groups lining up in opposition to Proposition 19 every day we are confident that we will be able to show that this poorly drafted initiative will lead to cannabis chaos and no new tax revenues.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.