Former NZ-based billionaire backs medicinal marijuana
Thursday 5 May 2011 5:25 a.m.
Fifteen states, according to the request for proposals, have made marijuana legal for qualified patients
A dope-smoking American billionaire caught importing marijuana to New Zealand more than a decade ago, Peter Lewis, is seeking proposals to conduct a ballot initiative campaign to legalise marijuana for medical use in his home state of Ohio.
Fifteen states, according to the request for proposals, have made marijuana legal for qualified patients, most through the passage of similar voter initiatives. The first was California in 1996.
Ohio is the headquarters of car insurer Progressive Insurance - founded by his father and chaired by Mr Lewis. About 90 percent of the billionaire's net worth is held in shares of Progressive, though he retired from directly running the company shortly after being busted in Auckland in 2000.
Lewis' daughter and her husband moved to New Zealand and bought a house worth $3.4 million, and he visited Auckland over summer to watch the America's Cup, only to plead guilty in Otahuhu District Court to importing 100g of cannabis resin and leaf. He was discharged without conviction after giving $US53,000 to a local drug rehabilitation centre.
Forbes magazine reported on its website that Lewis might have personal reasons for backing medical marijuana because his lawyer told the Otahuhu court that he used the drug to combat pain from a partial leg amputation.
Mr Lewis said through his US lawyer, Graham Boyd, that the law-change proposal, due May 15, was not just to pass a voter initiative legalising medical marijuana in Ohio but to design a campaign that could create a model for future campaigns in other states.
Funding would be based on whether someone could make a convincing case that Ohio was the best state in which to win, said Mr Boyd, who declined comment on whether his client was considering conducting similar ballot initiatives in other states.
Lewis has already given millions of dollars to a reform group, Marijuana Policy Project, including $US900,000 in 2010. He also gave $US200,000 in support of California's Proposition 19, the bill that sought unsuccessfully last November to legalise marijuana in California.