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Retired Ohio Exec Bankrolling Mass. Medical Marijuana Initiative

This article is more than 7 years old.

Proponents of legalizing medical marijuana in Massachusetts have a huge money advantage over opponents of the 2012 ballot question, almost entirely due to the contributions of one deep-pocketed out-of-state advocate.

Peter Lewis, the Ohio chairman and retired CEO of Progressive Insurance, has given $465,000 to the Committee for Compassionate Medicine, the ballot committee behind Question 3. Lewis is a well-known benefactor for pro-medical marijuana laws across the country.

The committee raised $512,860 since January, according to its report required to be filed with the Office of Campaign and Political Finance 60 days before the election.

By contrast, the Vote No on Question 3 committee raised just $600 since January from two donors, $100 from Massachusetts Family Institute director Kris Mineau and $500 from Westborough “homemaker” Josephine Hensley.

The Committee for Compassionate Medicine spent almost $406,000 over that same period through Sept. 2, largely on consulting fees - $158,362 to the Dewey Square Group, $52,500 to Corrigan & Associates and $24,000 to the American Civil Liberties Union. The committee spent $83,000 on SpoonWorks Inc. for professional signature-gathering to qualify for the ballot.

“We’re just beginning to kick off the campaign so not to worry. There’s some strong grassroots out there through the Massachusetts Prevention Alliance,” Mineau told the News Service.

Backers of Question 2 that would allow terminally ill patients to self-administer lethal drugs after requesting a prescription from a doctor, have also benefited greatly from out-of-state money, taking in tens of thousands of dollars from national groups and donors, including $85,000 from the Death With Dignity National Center in Portland, Oregon.

The Dignity 2012 committee raised $302,637 from January through September, according to its OCPF report, and spent $246,390.

Meanwhile, the Committee Against Physician Assisted Suicide raised $900,550 from late April through September, including $250,000 from the American Family Association in Tupelo, Mississippi and tens of thousands of dollars from archdioceses around the country.

The group announced last week that Rosanne Bacon Meade, former president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, would lead the committee, and Meade promised a “vigorous effort” to defeat the ballot question, which is also opposed by Massachusetts Medical Society, the Hospice & Palliative Care Federation of Massachusetts, the American Medical Association and the American College of Physicians.

A separate group also opposed to Question 2 – Massachusetts Against Doctor Prescribed Suicide – raised $109,686 and spent $66,480.

“You can rest assured these are not a Massachusetts initiatives,” Mineau said, referencing the heavy out-of-state spending.

A Public Policy Polling survey released in August found broad support for Question 3 with 58 percent of respondents favoring medical marijuana and 27 percent against.

Life-ending prescriptions for certain patients was also favored by a margin of 58 percent to 24 percent, according to the PPP survey.

Ballot Question 3 would make Massachusetts the 17th state, including Maine and Rhode Island, to have laws allowing the medical use of marijuana.

The proposed law would eliminate state criminal and civil penalties for the use of medical marijuana by patients diagnosed with a “debilitating medical condition” such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV or AIDS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s, ALS, hepatitis C or multiple sclerosis.

Under the language of the ballot question a patient would have to obtain a written certification from a physician to qualify for a 60-day supply of medical marijuana for personal use. The initiative would allow non-profit medical marijuana treatment centers certified by the Department of Public Health to grow, process, and provide marijuana to patients or their caregivers.

Law enforcement officials have had a mixed reaction to the ballot question, and Gov. Deval Patrick has so far declined to weigh in on the issue deferring for now to the voters.

Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early told the News Service in July that he is personally opposed to the ballot question, but did not intend to do any campaigning to help defeat the measure, while Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone said he was “open” to considering the benefits of medical marijuana.

The Massachusetts District Attorney’s Association has not yet taken a formal position on Question 3. The Massachusetts Medical Society has also staked out a nuanced position on the ballot question, opposing recreational use of the drug while calling for more study of the pros and cons of medical use.

A 2008 ballot question decriminalizing possession of less than one ounce of marijuana passed easily despite an eleventh hour push from law enforcement for voters to reject it.

This program aired on September 10, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

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