Weed Killers: Who’s Bankrolling the Fight Against Legal Cannabis

Article by Keegan Hamilton, Vice

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Even by the usual standards of politics, this election’s campaign against marijuana legalization has made strange bedfellows. The largest donors to the various anti-weed political groups around the country include a billionaire casino tycoon, a woman who believes in reefer madness, a drug-crusading former U.S. ambassador, cops, prison guards, booze merchants, and a pharma company that sells the powerful painkiller fentanyl.

A majority of Americans favor legal pot and pro-legalization campaigns have overwhelmingly outraised the opposition. Supporters in the five states set to vote on recreational marijuana had a war chest of $30 million as of Oct. 20, compared to just $6.6 million for their rivals, according to campaign finance data collected by the nonpartisan site Ballotpedia. The disparity comes largely from California, where proponents of legalization measure Proposition 64 have outraised their foes $18.1 million to $2 million.

Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, the largest anti-legalization group in the country, said the cash gap is “not surprising” and “always what we expected.” He noted that much of the pro-legalization money in California has come from entrepreneurs seeking to capitalize on what is projected to be a $6.5 billion market for marijuana by 2020.

“These guys don’t care about ending the war on drugs,” said Sabet. “They care about making money.”

But looking across the country, it’s clear that self-interest — and the fear of lost profits — also fuels the effort to keep weed outlawed. Tied for the largest single donation to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, the campaign against the state’s recreational marijuana proposal, was $500,000 from Insys Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company known for selling the painkiller fentanyl in the form of a sublingual spray. The company and some former employees have faced lawsuits and criminal charges over the way the drug was marketed.

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