Facebook co-founder contributes to pro-cannabis campaign

Last week saw the French capital ravished by the decadent celebration of style that is Paris Fashion Week. No name is more synonymous with Gallic chic than that of the inimitable Coco Chanel. Her insight extended well beyond the timeless glamour for which she is now known. Indeed, she once remarked: “Money for me has only one sound: liberty”.

This statement reflects her ascent from the French peasantry to international iconic status, but it also captures a broader political truth. We need not look far to realise that money is very closely associated with power. One cannot be truly powerful if one is not free. So it appears that money, liberty and power are inextricably linked. This is an uncomfortable reality which has risen to prominence in the run up to the US mid-term elections.

In California these will coincide with a ballot on Proposition 19, also known as the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act 2010. Californian voters will have the opportunity to decide whether or not cannabis should be legalised. If this new legislation is effected, California will be the first US state to have adopted this approach. This is a very topical issue in the state, where popular opinion reveals an acceptance of such drug use. This proposed legislative change is seen by its supporters as realigning outmoded legislation with the contemporary reality.

Sean Parker, who co-founded Facebook, has now donated $100,000 (£62,700) to the campaign in favour of decriminalising cannabis. Parker has emulated the decision of fellow co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, who had contributed $70,000 to the cause. This donation presumably came in response to the pro-cannabis lobby’s complaints that they had insufficient funding.  Parker has not, however, issued a public statement on his donation, which has naturally given rise to such speculation. What is clear is that Parker vehemently supports the campaign to legalise cannabis.

Was he wise to give such a substantial sum of money to the pro-cannabis campaign? Was this money well spent? Instinctively it seems commendable to take such proactive steps to further a cause one believes is right. Of course, this must be qualified. Terrorist atrocities are committed as affirmative statements of political belief, but that does not make them admirable.

On a more pragmatic level, it is dubious whether the campaign really does need an extra $100,000. It has attracted firm support amongst Californian voters, 47% of whom intend to vote in favour of legalising the drug. This was found in a survey conducted by Public Policy Polling, which also revealed that just 38% planned to oppose the legislation. It may be that the campaign’s complaints gave an exaggerated impression of their plight, so Parker’s donation may not have been necessary in strict financial terms.

Nevertheless, the campaign will undoubtedly benefit from the boost to its credibility afforded by this high profile donation. It has already received significant media attention. Inevitably, this has publicised the views espoused by the legislation’s proponents which could conceivably influence public opinion. However, this is a divisive issue amongst Californians, with both sides attracting a devout following. It seems unlikely that either side will be able to achieve a great deal by way of conversion. In that respect Parker’s gift is more of a pledge of allegiance to the cause than a practical necessity for the campaign.

Parker is entitled to spend his own money as he sees fit. Such donations ought to be governed by personal conscience. After all, this is not a matter of assigning public funds. Nonetheless, this has raised serious questions about the propriety of allowing individuals to use their private wealth to dictate the course of political action.

This is hardly an uncommon feature of political activity. Campaigns are expensive. Reports of the presidential campaigns were peppered with accounts of the vast sums required to maintain them. British political parties depend on donors and paid membership. Provided that this funding is conducted transparently, we accept it as unavoidable. Freedom of expression is vital in a liberal democracy. This right may be exercised through campaigning, which would be impossible without private funding.  This eventuality is far more unpalatable than the present situation.

The potential inequalities of this system present greater difficulties when the core issues are more obscure. Then the voters are more susceptible to campaigning as they depend on the information provided.  On the subject of legalising cannabis, many already hold a firm opinion. Ideology and voting are free, and that, ultimately, is what will count.

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