A Washington state initiative that would allow doctors to recommend that patients take illegal drugs for their medical problems got a $335,000 boost Monday from a New York billionaire.
George Soros - an investment expert who has given more than a billion dollars to promote democracy in Eastern Europe and millions to change U.S. drug laws - sent a check to the group supporting Initiative 685.
Dr. Rob Killian, a Tacoma physician who is heading the initiative campaign, said the money will help pay for television commercials, which begin airing this week.
“From Day 1, I’ve been asking for help from anywhere I can get it,” Killian said. “I need money to have a public discussion.”
Initiative supporters have raised just over $1 million, he said, and nearly all of the money has come from out of state.
“The people of the state should be outraged that 99 percent of the funds have come from out-of-state billionaires,” said Mike Suydam, spokesman for Concerned Citizens Against Dangerous Drugs. “They’re using Washington state’s electoral process to change national drug policy.”
But the chairman of that group, Seattle developer Ken Alhadeff, later said he respected Soros’ right to contribute money to causes he believes in.
“I respect and admire that he cares enough to get involved,” Alhadeff said. “I can only hope the people of Washington take the time to study the initiative.”
Soros, a Hungarian native who survived the Holocaust and later emigrated to the United States, is a financial speculator worth an estimated $5 billion, according to a recent Time Magazine cover story. He has used his wealth to promote political change in the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, and to shift the nation’s drug policy.
Last year he contributed $1 million to initiatives legalizing the medical use of marijuana in California and Arizona.
“Criminalizing drug abuse does more harm than good, blocking effective treatment and incarcerating far too many people,” Soros wrote in a recent guest column for the Washington Post.
The initiative, one of eight statewide ballot measures facing voters this year, would allow doctors to recommend that patients use a wide range of Schedule I drugs. Those include marijuana, heroin, LSD, peyote and methamphetamine.
People in prison for possession of those drugs would be eligible for parole if the law passes, and those later convicted of possession would be placed on probation with drug treatment required.
Those convicted of violent crimes while under the influence of the drugs would be required to serve their full sentences without a chance for parole.
The law, if passed, would set up a drug treatment and education fund.