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Donations from out-of-state philanthropists driving Maine marijuana campaign

(PressHerald) 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.

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