Soros Gives $1M to California Pot Legalization Measure

By Marcus Wohlsen | October 26, 2010 | 4:07 PM EDT

(AP) - Billionaire financier George Soros has thrown his weight behind California's marijuana legalization measure with a $1 million donation a week before the vote.

The contribution reported Tuesday by The Sacramento Bee is the single biggest donation from an individual other than Proposition 19's main sponsor, Oakland medical marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee.

The high-profile liberal and philanthropist has long backed drug law reform. He was one of the top financial backers of California's first-in-the-nation measure that legalized medical marijuana in the state in 1996.

But Soros held off on openly endorsing the current measure until publishing an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. In the piece, Soros said legalizing and taxing marijuana would save taxpayers the costs of incarceration and law enforcement while raising revenue for the state.

"Just as the process of repealing national alcohol prohibition began with individual states repealing their own prohibition laws, so individual states must now take the initiative with respect to repealing marijuana prohibition laws," Soros wrote.

The $1 million donation comes a day after the Yes on 19 campaign launched its first television ad. The No campaign also recently took to the airwaves for the first time with a radio ad sponsored by the California Chamber of Commerce claiming the law would threaten workplace safety and harm the state's economy.

Until now, neither side in the ballot measure contest has seen a huge outpouring of cash, though supporters have significantly out-raised opponents.

High-profile donations to Proposition 19 in recent days include $50,000 from Men's Wearhouse chief executive George Zimmer and $70,000 from hedge fund president and Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel, according to campaign finance records.

Despite the large sums, fundraising for Proposition 19 has been modest compared to other campaigns. Supporters have raised about $3.8 million including the Soros donation. The No campaign has raised about $300,000.

By contrast, campaign finance records show supporters of Proposition 23 to suspend California's greenhouse gas emissions law have raised more than $10 million while opponents have raised more than $30 million.