Soros gives $1 million to support Prop. 19

Billionaire financier George Soros gave $1 million today to support Proposition 19, the ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana use.

Soros – long a supporter of drug-reform efforts across the nation and here in California – reported his contribution this morning to the Secretary of State’s office, even as America woke up to his op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal in support of legalization. In part, he wrote:

George SorosRegulating and taxing marijuana would simultaneously save taxpayers billions of dollars in enforcement and incarceration costs, while providing many billions of dollars in revenue annually. It also would reduce the crime, violence and corruption associated with drug markets, and the violations of civil liberties and human rights that occur when large numbers of otherwise law-abiding citizens are subject to arrest. Police could focus on serious crime instead.

The racial inequities that are part and parcel of marijuana enforcement policies cannot be ignored. African-Americans are no more likely than other Americans to use marijuana but they are three, five or even 10 times more likely-depending on the city-to be arrested for possessing marijuana. I agree with Alice Huffman, president of the California NAACP, when she says that being caught up in the criminal justice system does more harm to young people than marijuana itself. Giving millions of young Americans a permanent drug arrest record that may follow them for life serves no one’s interests.

Soros made his contribution not to the main Yes on 19 committee established by proponent Richard Lee of Oakland, but to a supporting committee – the Drug Policy Action Committee to Tax and Regulate Marijuana – Yes on Prop. 19 – established by the Drug Policy Alliance; Soros has been a major funder of the alliance and sits on its board.

Prop. 19 had been having a lot of trouble attracting significant funding, and only just rolled out its first television ad yesterday; $1 million will allow a much more intense media blitz in the final week before Election Day, but with so many people having already cast ballots by mail, its not clear whether this will counter the measure’s recent slump in the polls in enough time to make a difference.

UPDATE @ 12:30 P.M.: We’ve got fuller coverage of Soros’ big ante here.

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.