Big-Name CEOs Put Money Into Marijuana

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Apparently, the lifestyles of the rich and famous include toking on grass. Some very wealthy and some very famous people have kicked into the campaign to legalize marijuana. Some others - who are currently neither wealthy nor famous - stand to become billionaires once marijuana is legalized. There is a lot of green in that green.

Among the current members of the elite who have contributed to ensuring one can get stoned without fear of violating the law are:

  • George Soros - Probably the most controversial, one of the richest, pro marijuana financiers, billionaire investor, Soros had made millions of dollars in contributions to various organizations and campaigns striving to legalize marijuana. He even donated $1 million to the failed 2010 effort to making California safe for potheads. Soros's commitment to legalizing marijuana is undeniable. He financed pro-pot efforts despite his own legal problems.
  • Google billionaire Paul Buchheit donated at least $100,000 to the same California effort as Soros.
  • Facebook billionaire founders Sean Parker and Dustin Moskovitz kicked in $170,000 to the California campaign.
  • PayPal founder Peter Thiel donated money to legalizing marijuana.
  • In September 2013, the Americans for Tax Reform joined with the National Cannabis Industry Association and Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) to call for reform of the Internal Revenue Code, so medical marijuana providers can pay taxes on income instead of gross receipts.
  • George Zimmer, founder of Men's Wearhouse, donated $2 million to the effort to make pot legal in California, according to published reports.
  • John Sperling, chairman and CEO of the University of Phoenix, is another grass financier.
  • Whole Foods founder John Mackey is another.

An organization favored by the entertainment industry is the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). It is considered one of the largest pro-pot legalization organizations, and the board is mainly from the entertainment industry with some prominent Libertarians - like former professional wrestler and Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura and former Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson - thrown into the mix. But it also includes National Review's Richard Brookhiser.

Some of MPP's board members read like a Hollywood B-list. They are:

  • Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder and former Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow
  • Television talk show host Bill Maher
  • Comedian Jackie Martling
  • Jello Biafra, Musician
  • Singer Michelle Phillips
  • Media personality Adam Carolla
  • Singer Ani DiFranco
  • Screenwriter Steven Faber

According to the MPP's own financial report, the Foundation's board provided 36% of the funding for 2012. The Foundation's total revenues in 2012 were $3,569,899. Donations from the board account for $1,312,500.

Then there is NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. It is probably one of the oldest, if not the oldest, such group.

NORML most recently brought the Kellogg company into line. The company cut its endorsement contract with Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps after pictures of him toking appeared. NORML organized a boycott of Kellogg, and the company reversed its ruling.

NORML was the first to do a national advertisement for legalizing grass. It also pushed through a screen ad on a Times Squares superscreen despite CBS's initial reluctance.

Another pro-pot jet setter is Rick Steves. He not only introduces people to the joy of European travel via his public broadcasting television show empire, Steves apparently also wants people to be introduced to legal marijuana. It was reported that Steves contributed $100,000 to the Washington state legalization initiative.

Money from wealthy elite pro-pot donors makes it way to political candidates too. Donations to political candidates and in some cases against candidates is used to propel the movement forward.

MPP is leading the way politically according to an article on OpenSecrets.org. According to OpenSecrets the MPP "is also the top organization lobbying on the issue, with more than 72 marijuana mentions in filings since 2006."

The MPP donated to four senatorial campaigns in 2010 - including that of Rand Paul, who was the only Republican receiving money. Nearly all the money donated to House races went to Democrats that year.

So there is sufficient money and power behind the effort to legalize marijuana. They are well organized. They have great access to the media.

Mel Levitsky is a professor public policy at the University of Michigan and formerly was on the International Narcotics Control Board. He is an opponent of legalization.

"There is kind of elite sense to all of this," he said "Why is this? I think that those who want to change things tend to be more activist. It is not just liberals by the way, but libertarians as well."

"Why are those who are adamantly opposed to this not effective?" Levitsky added. "Because they are portrayed as retrograde dinosaurs."

Levitsky feels that those who are against marijuana legalization have let the pro-pot groups define the debate. Whether that is true or not, one thing is for certain, the opponents of marijuana legalization have their work cut out for them.

—Written by Michael P. Tremoglie for MainStreet

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