The head of Progressive Insurance who died last Saturday was a major reason why Arizona now has a medical marijuana law.
Peter Lewis contributed $330,000 of his own money to the first successful ballot measure in 1996. That made him the third largest single contributor to the $1.6 million campaign, behind the $480,000 from John Sperling, president of Apollo Group and founder of the University of Phoenix, and $430,000 from investor George Soros.
He also kicked in more than $400,000 more two years later to once again get voters to enact the same law. That came after the Legislature unilaterally decided to essentially overturn what voters had approved.
That reinstatement effort was not only successful but also sparked approval of a parallel measure, still in the Arizona Constitution, which bars lawmakers from tinkering with voter-approved measure.
As to medical marijuana, however, those two efforts were for naught.
The 1996 and identical 1998 laws allowed a doctor to prescribe marijuana and other controlled drugs to patients. But no doctor was willing to do that after the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency threatened to revoke their prescription-writing privileges.
That lesson was not lost on those pushing the 2010 measure: They changed the language to allow someone to purchase marijuana with only a doctor’s recommendation, something legally short of a prescription.
The 2010 initiative was narrowly approved with major funding from the national Marijuana Policy Project. And while that organization does not disclose donors, an organization spokesman confirmed at the time for Capitol Media Services that Lewis was both board chairman and a major contributor.
Not everything that Lewis backed in Arizona became law.
He also was a financial supporter of a measure pushed for the ballot in 2000 which would have decriminalized marijuana possession, reducing the penalty to a maximum of $500 for up to two ounces. The initiative failed to gather enough signatures to be put before voters.
A similar measure did make the ballot in 2002 but was defeated.