Arizona Anti-Pot Lobby Imports Colorado Politicians to Kill Legal Weed

"Don't repeat our terrible mistake."

These words are delivered in extremely dour fashion by Wellington Webb, former mayor of Denver, Colorado, in a new 30-second commercial opposing Proposition 205, the measure to legalize limited recreational marijuana sales in Arizona. The proposition is clearly modeled on Colorado's Amendment 64, which voters in that state passed in 2012 — right down to the slogan, "Regulate marijuana like alcohol." And Webb isn't the only Colorado political noteworthy to speak out against it in the ad, which is sponsored by Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, the anti-Prop 205 group run by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk and Phoenix talk-radio host Seth Leibsohn. Also talking about marijuana legalization using ultra-negative terms is onetime Colorado governor Bill Owens, whose image is juxtaposed with the shot above of marijuana edibles made to look like typical candy bars, presumably in an attempt to lure unsuspecting children into taking a bite.

Problem is, such edibles have never been legally sold in Colorado, and thanks to the state's packaging laws, they can't be now, either.

The photo isn't the only example of misinformation in the ad — and the results frustrate Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project (a supporter of Prop 205) who was among the leading proponents of Amendment 64. As Tvert points out, Webb hints that a large amount of the tax revenue generated by marijuana sales in Colorado has gone to regulating the substance, when in reality such costs account for a little more than 7 percent of the total, and suggests that the supposed windfall for school construction hasn't come to pass by noting that none of the money has gone to Denver schools. This last claim is true, but only because Denver schools haven't applied for the cash (of which there has been plenty).

"The opponents of Proposition 205 recognize that there is a significant benefit in regulating and taxing marijuana," Tvert maintains, "and they're trying to downplay those benefits when it comes to the revenue that could be raised. They're flat-out denying them. And while voters aren't going to base their decision about which way to vote solely on whether revenue will be raised for schools, it will make an impact. It will factor into their decision, so it's really appalling to see this group denying the facts" — something it has done before, according to previous news-agency analyses.

What are the actual details?

"In the fiscal year 2015-2016, state taxes on marijuana [in Colorado] raised $40 million for public-school construction, and more than $2 million in additional funds that have been earmarked for public schools," Tvert notes. "And that's not even counting the money that's being doled out for school health officials, like nurses, and a new anti-bullying grant that's going to be delivered to schools."

The $40 million for school construction has mostly gone to "rural districts and other places where they're in serious need," Tvert allows. "For them to say Denver hasn't gotten any is almost clever, if it wasn't so egregiously obvious. But the truth is, Amendment 64's promise of raising $40 million for schools has been fulfilled, and more has been raised beyond that."

He's equally aghast at "former governor Owens declaring that marijuana is being marketed to children, when there are clear laws against that. And to have his image appear next to a bunch of marijuana candy bars that would not be allowed in Colorado under our laws is ridiculous."

The stats related to marijuana edibles, as well as to traffic deaths and more, are also dubious, in that they're drawn from data collected by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a federally funded law-enforcement group that has spent the past several years churning out material intended to show the terrible effects of marijuana legalization in Colorado, as opposed to looking at the topic in an unbiased manner.

"The validity of RMHIDTA’s data has not only been questioned repeatedly by the media, but also by another federal agency," Tvert notes in a reference to the U.S. Postal Service, which last year disputed the Colorado organization's claim that the amount of cannabis being mailed out of state had skyrocketed. As reported by U.S. News & World Report, the Postal Service maintained that the number of marijuana-related packages intercepted in the wake of legalization in Colorado and Washington state actually dropped 12 percent.

In Tvert's view, the RMHIDTA "did not make even the slightest attempt to be objective, but they took every opportunity possible to be disingenuous."

Tvert sees Webb and Owens as "sore losers who are trying to scrap together some kind of shred of victory in another state. But their lies are just as egregious now as when they told them about Amendment 64 back in 2012."

Here's the Proposition 205 ad:
Editor's note: This is a slightly edited version of a story from Westword, New Times' sister paper in Denver.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently oversees Westword's news blog.
Contact: Michael Roberts