Marijuana: George Soros link to Amendment 64 claimed, disputed

Billionaire George Soros is a frequent conservative target for donating big bucks to liberal causes (of course, conservatives have munificent billionaires of their own -- but that's another story). Now, Smart Colorado, a group opposing Amendment 64, the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, sees Soros's fingerprints on the pro-pot campaign, citing as evidence a recent fundraising letter for the Drug Policy Alliance. The DPA counters by denying that Soros has donated to Amendment 64 thus far -- although his contributions would be welcomed.

The letter, which also includes a collection of "Drug War Facts" and quotes from the likes of former President Jimmy Carter and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, begins with Soros promoting the idea of an open society. Then, after talking about his past, including escapes from the Nazi and communist occupations of his native Hungary, he asserts that "here in our own country, nothing so resembles the closed society than the tragic failure known as the war on drugs."

He adds that "the war on drugs has all the characteristic of a closed society: the absolute powers claimed by the authorities, the attempt to silence critics rather than engage them, and, of course, the human costs that inevitably result -- our failure to deal with addiction, the violent crime our drug polices have spawned, and more."

In light of these views, Soros writes that he supports "an exceptional group called the Drug Policy Alliance," and he urges the reader of the letter to do the same.

According to Smart Colorado spokeswoman Laura Cohen, this letter was widely distributed in the Denver area earlier this month -- timing that, in her view, suggests a tie to Amendment 64, which is on the November 2012 ballot.

"It appears that the pro-marijuana legalization campaign may be relying on the agenda and the funding from an out-of-state billionaire," Cohen maintains in a statement provided to Westword. "In 2010, Mr. Soros donated $1 million to a similar attempt, California's Proposition 19."

Is there a Soros connection to Amendment 64? Only an indirect one at this point, says Art Way, manager of the Drug Policy Alliance's Colorado branch. He confirms the legitimacy of the letter, noting that "we send out quite a few of those in a year." Likewise, he acknowledges DPA's support of the ballot initiative. However, he goes on, "Mr. Soros has not given to the campaign so far. We would accept any donation from him, but that's not the case right now."

Page down to read more about George Soros and Amendment 64: As for the implication that the Regulate act is being imposed on Colorado by outsiders, Way stresses that "the initiative is a natural response to the past ten years of marijuana reform that's taken place in Colorado, and the two proponents of the initiative" -- Mason Tvert, executive director of Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), and Sensible Colorado's Brian Vicente -- "are the primary reasons that we're in the place we are now.

"Denver's already decriminalized marijuana -- that was voted on by the people," he continues. "The state legislature decriminalized anything under two ounces, making it a petty offense. And Colorado has some of the more robust medical marijuana regulations in the country. So this initiative is based on the progress Colorado has made over the years," as opposed to being an agenda being forced upon the state.

As for the Drug Policy Alliance, Way points out that "marijuana reform is not our only issue. We engage in broad criminal justice reform and harm reduction principles to be implemented in various states and local jurisdictions." Example: a 911 overdose bill that became law earlier this year.

As such, Way sees Smart Colorado's efforts to make Soros an issue in the Amendment 64 fight as a campaign tactic.

"It's standard politics to always claim that carpetbaggers are somehow involved -- that people who aren't involved in the local politics are behind certain initiatives," he says. "I know that's probably been the case on certain occasions, but it's not the case here. This is a continuation of the reform Colorado is leading the country in implementing. Brian and Mason have been at this for nearly a decade now, so this is homegrown reform. You can't downplay the work they and members of the broader reform movement here in Colorado have done."

Smart Colorado looks at the situation very differently. "Coloradans already oppose the legalization of marijuana for recreational use," Cohen's statement concludes, "and we are confident that the more they learn the facts, the more they will oppose this harmful constitutional amendment."

Here's the Soros letter.

George Soros Letter

More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: Ken Buck says Amendment 64 backers care more about profit than people."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts