By Hillary Borrud
The campaign to legalize recreational marijuana in Oregon had raised over $1 million, with three months left until voters decide on the November ballot measure.
A spokesman for New Approach Oregon said last week the group is just getting started on fundraising.
Peter Zuckerman, communications director for the campaign, said Thursday that many potential donors probably watched from the sidelines to make sure supporters had collected enough signatures to qualify the initiative for the November ballot, which the state confirmed they did on July 22.
“Since we just qualified, the campaign is just beginning in earnest,” Zuckerman said. “Now is where it really begins, because a lot of people logically are going to hang back and make sure we’ve qualified before they invest in the campaign.”
So far, the largest contributions come from individuals and groups on the East Coast, in New York City and Washington, D.C. A Washington, D.C.-based political action committee, New Approach PAC, contributed $250,000 to New Approach Oregon in June, and The Oregonian has reported that family members of the late Peter Lewis, former chief executive of Progressive Corporation auto insurance companies, contributed to the committee. Peter Lewis gave $96,000 to New Approach Oregon before his death in November 2013, according to campaign finance data from the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office. According to an Internal Revenue Service filing from June, Adam Lewis gave $100,000 to the Washington, D.C.-based committee and Toby Lewis contributed $100,000. Another large donor to the committee was Philip Harvey, a philanthropist and operator of a large mail-order sexual merchandise company, who gave $200,000. Harvey also contributed $150,000 directly to New Approach Oregon.
New Approach Oregon has also received $100,000 from New York City philanthropist Henry van Ameringen and more than $410,000 from the New York City-based political action committee Drug Policy Action. Drug Policy Action is the political arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, whose executive director Ethan Nadelmann could not be reached for comment Friday.
Nearly all the contributions to New Approach Oregon’s political action committee — 96 percent — were at least $10,000. The only contribution tied to a Bend address was $500 from The Hughes Companies LLC, a business operated by lawyer Michael Hughes, who represents at least one local medical marijuana dispensary and other marijuana businesses around the state.
“Taxing and regulating cannabis is the only way to truly minimize both the access to cannabis by minors, and to reduce the harms associated with consumption by minors,” Hughes said Friday. He added that Colorado state officials found a high level of compliance in checking identification to ensure minors could not purchase recreational marijuana.
As of yet, there is no active opposition to the Oregon initiative, although the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association might soon launch such an effort.
“Sheriffs are actively discussing the role we’re going to play,” association General Manager Darrell Fuller said Thursday. “We are certainly on record in opposition to the legalization of marijuana and plan to do what we can on a county-by-county basis, with the sheriffs talking to their communities about the dangers of smoking marijuana and legalizing it.”
Zuckerman said New Approach Oregon is focused on registering voters, because the campaign expects to draw support from young people but many of them are not registered to vote.
“Because of Oregon’s vote-by-mail system, when you move, you’re taken off the voter rolls,” Zuckerman said. “So young people often think they’re registered to vote, but they’ve moved a couple times in the last couple years and then they never get their ballot, and they never vote, and their voices are never heard.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7829, firstname.lastname@example.org