When Peter Lewis, a philanthropist and the founder of Progressive Insurance, had part of his leg amputated because of a vascular disorder, he found the opiates prescribed to control his pain debilitating. On the advice of his doctor, he turned to marijuana for relief.

After he was arrested in New Zealand for possessing marijuana a few years later, the billionaire became a leading supporter of ending marijuana prohibition, spending well over $40 million on the cause. Lewis died three years ago this month, but his legacy of supporting marijuana policy reform continues with a political action committee whose donors include three of his relatives, a co-founder of Facebook and a businessman known for his sex toy business.

That PAC has made its mark in Maine, where it is the leading contributor to the campaign backing the marijuana legalization initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot.

“The Maine law was written by local activists and people in the medical marijuana system. We think it does a good job of creating tight regulations. For that reason, the philanthropists I work with decided to support it,” said Graham Boyd, the head of New Approach.

The campaign to legalize marijuana in Maine has been funded largely by New Approach and donors with similar philosophies on drug policy reform, while opponents have depended primarily on individuals and a single nonprofit organization for donations. Noticeably absent among the donors are the corporations and lobbying groups that have spent heavily in other states to influence the outcome of marijuana legalization questions.

Pro-legalization ballot committees across the country have raised $38.7 million, while opponents have raised $11.9 million to fight legalized pot, according to Marijuana Business Daily. In Maine, the political action committees working to support and oppose Question 1 have raised a combined $2.6 million this year.



Five states – Maine, Massachusetts, California, Arizona and Nevada – will vote on marijuana legalization initiatives similar to ones already passed in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska. The prospect of the expansion of an industry expected to grow to $7.1 billion in this year has prompted donations from both philanthropists and business interests. Groups fighting the spread of legalization have been financed primarily by a handful of wealthy donors, but also have seen support from the beer industry, pharmaceutical companies and even the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.

But in Maine, where Question 1 is among the most high-profile of the five referendum questions on the ballot, donations are not coming from a wide variety of sources.

The Washington, D.C.-based New Approach PAC has pumped nearly $2.2 million into the campaign, by far the largest contributor to the $2.4 million raised by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

The two political action committees formed to fight Question 1, Mainers Protecting Our Youth and Communities and Maine Matters Vote No, have relied on small donations from individuals – including medical marijuana caregivers opposed to legalization – and a Virginia-based nonprofit run by a former White House drug policy adviser. Mainers Protecting Our Youth and Communities also reported receiving an in-kind contribution valued at $10,000 from an anti-legalization campaign in Arizona funded primarily by a pharmaceutical company that makes the synthetic opioid Fentanyl.

“We see Question 1 as legitimizing corporate ‘Big Marijuana’ and legitimizing things like edibles. We’re very concerned about the sloppily written provisions that would allow kids to access marijuana,” said Kevin Sabet, the head of the newly formed nonprofit Alliance for Healthy Marijuana Policy, which has donated $200,000 of the $201,226 raised by Mainers Protecting Our Youth and Communities.


Question 1 asks voters if they want to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and over. If approved, adults would be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces, grow their own plants and buy marijuana from licensed retail stores. The initiative also would allow marijuana social clubs and place a 10 percent sales tax on marijuana. Marijuana use would be prohibited in public, with violations punishable by a $100 fine.


The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol got an early jump on fundraising, out-raising opponents by a 29-to-1 margin. But Mainers Protecting Our Youth and Communities got a late boost in fundraising in October with an additional $150,000 in contributions from the Alexandria, Va.-based Alliance for Healthy Marijuana Policy. Maine Matters Vote No is backed entirely by small individual donations, primarily from medical marijuana caregivers and advocates.

New Approach PAC, which also backs marijuana policy reform in Massachusetts, California and Arizona, started its donations to the Maine legalization campaign with $93,000 to pay for lawyers when Secretary of State Matt Dunlap ruled that the measure didn’t qualify for the November ballot.

New Approach is funded by a group of wealthy business people and philanthropists, according to IRS filings. They prefer not to speak to reporters, instead leaving that task to Boyd, he said.

“(New Approach) is composed of people who really do believe in creating marijuana laws that are fair, just and protect the public,” said Boyd, who previously was director of the ACLU’s National Drug Law Reform Project. “We want to have tight regulations and very real protections for children and for families. We believe that putting marijuana in the hands of criminal cartels and drug dealers is not good policy for anyone. It’s much more effective to bring it into an open, regulated system.”



In addition to the brother and two children of Lewis, backers of New Approach include:

• Sean Parker, the founder of music sharing service Napster and former president of Facebook. The tech billionaire has donated $2.5 million to the marijuana legalization campaign in California. He has repeatedly declined to talk to reporters about his contributions, but told Forbes last year that sensible policy reform will allow for the development of a strong regulatory framework for legal marijuana that will benefit California’s economy.

• Cari Tuna, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and wife of Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz. Tuna and Moskovitz co-founded the Good Ventures philanthropic foundation to give away much of their estimated $10 billion fortune.

• Philip D. Harvey, a philanthropist and founder of the Adam and Eve sex toy business.

Other donors to the Yes on 1 campaign include Peter Lewis’ son, Jonathan Lewis, who donated $250,000. Travel guru Rick Steves has donated $100,000 to the campaign and visited Maine in October to stump for Question 1. Steves has donated at least $800,000 to the fight to end marijuana prohibition in Washington, Massachusetts and Maine.


Steves said he is often approached by people who want him to invest in the legal marijuana industry, but he always declines.

“I don’t want to have anything to do with making money on pot,” he said in an interview during his visit to Portland. “I want to stop prohibition.”


Mainers Protecting Our Youth and Communities has relied almost entirely on the Alliance for Healthy Marijuana Policy to get the word out about its opposition to the marijuana initiative. Its only other donations were $115 in contributions from people who gave less than $50 and a $250 contribution from Patricia Hamilton, the director of health and community services for the city of Bangor.

Sabet, who co-founded Smart Approaches to Marijuana with Patrick Kennedy, said the alliance was formed this year by a “handful of parents and other loved ones” from Maine and the region who have been affected by the opiate epidemic and other drug problems. The people in the group – whom Sabet did not identify and said prefer to remain out of the spotlight – wanted to unite on a campaign to spread awareness about the harms of marijuana, he said.

Sabet said the alliance is supporting the No on 1 campaign because Question 1 “was written so poorly.”


“It’s nothing more than a corporate power grab and a way to advertise edibles, sodas and candies and other things that have been dangerous in other states,” he said.

The Alliance for Healthy Marijuana Policy has a strict policy of not accepting money from tobacco, pharmaceutical and alcohol companies, Sabet said. Businesses in those industries have supported campaigns fighting legalized marijuana in western states and Massachusetts.

Maine Matters Vote No, which was founded to oppose Question 1, has raised just under $12,000 to fight the initiative. That money comes almost entirely from individuals who donated $200 or less, according to campaign finance reports. Many of those donors identify themselves as medical marijuana caregivers.


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