Outside group foots large part of bill for campaign to legalize pot

Posted: Friday, October 08, 2004

ANCHORAGE - A group working to decriminalize marijuana has received more than $500,000 from an Outside organization, according to reports filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

Alaskans For Marijuana Regulation and Control has spent most of the $551,227 on radio and television ads, brochures, staff time and get-out-the-vote telephone pushes, according to the group's 30-day pre-election campaign disclosure report filed Monday.

All but $510 of the money came from the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, which also is also funding pro-marijuana initiatives in other states.

The only organized opposition to Ballot Measure 2 is Alaskans Against the Legalization of Marijuana/Hemp.

That group, which fought legalization efforts in 2000, has about $10,000, according to its APOC report.

Matthew Fagnani, president of the local drug-testing firm WorkSafe Inc. and chairman of the opposition group, declined to discuss his group's campaign strategy. He said he's working with about half a dozen people to defeat Ballot Measure 2. If passed, it would have grave social ramifications on Alaska, he said.

The initiative would make it legal under state law for people 21 and older to grow, use, sell or give away marijuana. It would also require state regulation and taxation of marijuana similar to alcohol or tobacco and laws limiting use in public.

"I think Alaskans need to be aware that this initiative is clearly supported and financed by Outside interests that have very little to do with Alaska," Fagnani told the Anchorage Daily News. "They're trying to make Alaska a poster child for the rest of the nation."

Bruce Mirken, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said if the measure passes, it could be a signal of larger changes to come around the country. Even if it fails, he said, it's will have stimulated discussion of marijuana policy.

"This is nothing we came up with and got on the ballot," Mirken said. "This was a totally homegrown campaign."

Mirken said his organization has about 15,000 dues-paying members. One is Ohio billionaire Peter B. Lewis, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Lewis this year donated $485,000 to MPP, as well as $2.5 million to the anti-war, anti-Bush online advocacy group MoveOn.org and about $3 million to a similar organization, America Coming Together.

Mirken said a big part of what the MPP does is support local activists.

The Marijuana Policy Project has spent comparable amounts of money on other statewide marijuana initiatives in Nevada, Oregon and Montana, Mirken said.

Mirken did not know how much money his organization contributed to failed legalization efforts in Alaska in 2000.

"It certainly was not the sort of sizable support we're doing this year," he said.

The 2000 initiative, rejected by about 60 percent of voters, also aimed to decriminalize pot, but the age limit in the measure was younger, 18. It also wanted the government to set free some jail inmates convicted of marijuana crimes and set up a commission to consider restitution.

"It overreached a bit," Mirken said.

Alaskans For Marijuana Regulation and Control is working with two other groups: Yes on 2 and Alaskans for Rights and Revenues.

Yes on 2 has raised close to $21,000 to date, according to its APOC report. Most donations were non-monetary covering such things as office space and utilities. About $1,300 was in cash or checks from 21 individuals, all but two Alaskans.

Alaskans for Rights and Revenues has raised about $1,655, according to its treasurer, Tim Hinterberger, an associate professor at the biomedical program at the University of Alaska Anchorage. The largest single donation, for $975, was from the Texas-based Foundation for Constitutional Protection.

There are no limits under state law on how much can be contributed to ballot issue groups.

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