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Marijuana legalization: Prop 19 in California starved for cash

Proposition 19, the California ballot measure to legalize marijuana possession and cultivation for adults has raised $2.1 million. Most of the money is from one donor: Richard Lee, a medical marijuana entrepreneur.

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"The large donors who funded Prop. 215 and traditionally fund the large cannabis reform organizations are all suffering from donor fatigue," opined Steve D'Angelo, founder of Oakland's Harborside Health Center dispensary. "Due to the fluctuations in the overall buisness world, they are watching their money more carefully than they were when Prop. 215 passed."

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The single largest donations to the "yes" campaign outside of Lee have come from Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, who has given $70,000. Moskovitz is no longer with the company.

Men's Wearhouse chief executive George Zimmer, a San Francisco Bay area resident who donated heavily to the medical marijuana measure and gives frequently to drug legalization causes, donated $20,000 during the signature drive for Proposition 19. He has given only $500 since.

The measure has also sharply divided the multi-billion-dollar marijuana industry itself.

Medical marijuana dispensaries could lose out if cities allow other retailers to sell the drug. Users would no longer need recommendations from doctors who specialize in medical marijuana to obtain the drug. And illicit growers could see legalized marijuana drive prices into a tailspin.

Lanette Davies, who runs the CannaCare medical marijuana dispensary in Sacramento, said she believes that the ballot measure's provision allowing local governments to regulate the sale of marijuana will lead cities and counties to curb access to marijuana for both recreational and medical use.

In recent years, conflicts have raged between dispensary owners and cities trying to shut down medical marijuana shops. And Davies believes Proposition 19 will give local governments an excuse to ignore the state's medical marijuana law, which she said provides stronger protections for patients.

"It just undermines what we've done so far," she said.

The drafters of Proposition 19 say the measure would have no impact on the rights of medical users under the earlier law.

Opponents of the measure are being heavily outfunded, as they were on some past pro-drug measures.

Nearly half the funding has come from groups that represent law enforcement officers. Other major donors include the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Hospital Association, a Southern California Indian tribe and a state lobbying group for beer distributors.

Campaign spokesman Roger Salazar blames the tepid fundraising in part on higher profile contests such as the race for governor drawing attention and money. He also said some voters inclined to oppose the measure might not give money because they have a hard time imagining the status quo could change.

"People tend to look at it and say, 'Of course it's going to lose, who's going to vote for that?'" Salazar said.

The No campaign has successfully sought out endorsements from newspaper editorial boards statewide, including the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times.

History could also work in the No campaign's favor.

Ballot measure backers must typically spend a lot to convince voters to support change, while opponents can sometimes succeed simply by sowing reasonable doubt, Matsusaka said. "You can vastly outspend your opponent on the pro side and still lose," he said.