Facebook co-founder gives $50,000 to pot legalization effort

With one eye on California's marijuana legalization vote, Democratic strategists are sizing up the possibility of placing the issue on other state ballots as a way of helping them win tight races in 2012, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Pollsters have noted a distinct increase in youth voter enthusiasm in California in recent months, attributed largely to Proposition 19, the ballot initiative that, if approved, would decriminalize, regulate and tax marijuana in the state.

Transferred to other elections, that additional enthusiasm could be enough to propel Democratic candidates in other states to victory in 2012. Where tight races exist, even a relatively small increase in the youth turnout could tilt the election in the Democrats' favor. As the WSJ notes, the under-30 voter turnout in California in 2008 accounted for 6.5 percent of the total electorate; this year, pollsters expect the youth vote to account for 11 percent of the total votes cast. The paper reports:

Surveys by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling suggest California voters under 30 years old are more likely to vote this year than their counterparts in other states. People in that age group make up 11% of California voters likely to turn out in November—compared with 8% of the likely electorate or less in Illinois, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Michigan, all of which have competitive statewide elections....

Blair Butterworth, a Democratic consultant in Washington state who works with legalization advocates, estimated a pot ballot measure could drive up youth turnout by two to four percentage points—enough to influence a tight race. "It's not like a home run. But with elections being so close these days, it's a big difference," he said.

According to the WSJ, Democratic strategists are particularly interested in placing marijuana initiatives on the ballot in Colorado and Nevada -- two states that allow ballot initiatives and are expected to be tight, must-win races in 2012.

But the notion of marijuana as a wedge issue working in the Democrats' favor is based on a number of as-yet unproven assumptions. One is that Proposition 19 will actually pass in California. Another is that it will drive youth voter turnout in the numbers needed to tilt close elections.

Recent polls show a slow but consistent trend in favor of marijuana decriminalization in California. Two recent polls would put the ballot initiative over the top: A Field Poll last week showed the "yes" side winning with 49 percent support to 41 percent support for opponents of decriminalization. A PPIC poll put support for legalization above the 50-percent mark, at 52 percent to 41 percent against.

But a Reuters/Ipsos poll released Tuesday shows the opposite: That 53 percent of Californians oppose legalization, versus 43 percent who support it. That poll, though seemingly an outlier compared to other recent ones, prompted Reuters to declare that marijuana legalization is a "pipe dream."

And some political observers question whether California youth will turn out in the numbers that pollsters predict.

Roger Salazar, a consultant for anti-Prop 19 Democrats, said the idea that more youth will turn out to vote for marijuana is "largely anecdotal." He told the WSJ: ""There are a lot of pot-smoking voters—but not that many."

In an interview with the AP, Salazar commented on the relative lack of financial support for either side in the Prop 19 debate.

"People tend to look at it and say, 'Of course it's going to lose, who's going to vote for that?'" Salazar said, noting that many political contributors may be bypassing the Prop 19 race because they simply don't believe that the status quo on marijuana could change.

AP reports:

Supporters of the measure had raised $2.1 million as of Tuesday, the latest deadline for campaigns to report their contributions. Opponents had raised just more than $210,000, much of it from law enforcement sources.

Both sides had about the same small amount of cash on hand: about $54,000 for opponents and $67,000 for the supporters


Among the seemingly few people to throw financial backing either for or against Proposition 19 is Dustin Moskovitz, one of the co-founders of Facebook, who has donated $50,000 to Yes on 19 crowd, according to the LA Times.

"More than any other initiative out there, Prop 19 will stabilize our national security and bolster our state economy," Moskovitz, who left Facebook in 2008, told the Times. "It will alleviate unnecessary overcrowding of non-violent offenders in our state jails, which in turn will help California residents."

While the move seems fitting with Facebook's image as a youth-oriented phenomenon, some online commentators saw irony in a Facebook founder donating money to pot decriminalization, given the recent controversy over Facebook's refusal to run pro-Prop 19 ads.

Regardless of how the vote turns out next month, Californians will no longer be facing criminal penalties for possession of marijuana, at least in quantities for personal use. Last week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law that makes possession of less than one ounce of marijuana a ticketable offense, similar to a speeding ticket.