Joe Arpaio to Speak at Pro-Pot Event in Sun City

This is not an opening line from The Onion, but it could be: Anti-drug crusader and former high-ranking U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration official Sheriff Joe Arpaio is scheduled to speak to seniors this week at a pro-pot event in Sun City.

Sure, Arpaio regularly kvetches about illicit drugs like marijuana coming across the U.S. border with Mexico. And he recently announced an MCSO operation targeting low-level drug deals, hearkening back to his days as a DEA agent, when detractors referred to him as "Nickel Bag Joe," for the small quantities he went after.

But according to the pro-legalization entity Mom Force AZ, Arpaio will appear at an event sponsored by the group at a Sun City church on October 10.

A flier for the meeting posted on Facebook advertises that the topic will be "Understanding Medical Marijuana." It's listed as "a free event for seniors" 55 and up.

"Join us to find out how some seniors are improving and extending their lives by trying this natural alternative to doctor prescribed pharmaceuticals," it reads.

That rather benign description of the what Arpaio considers demon weed is highly ironic, considering that the sheriff's mug appears right below it on the advertisement.  Arpaio opposed the legalization of medical marijuana back in 2010 under Proposition 203, which voters approved by a slim majority.
Prop 203 was backed by the Marijuana Policy Project, the same group plugging this cycle's Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, an intiative supported by Mom Force AZ and its leader Kathy Inman.

As recently noted here, Arpaio's longtime campaign guru, Chad Willems, is working as the strategist for the MMP's legalization effort in the state.

In fact, I wrote at the time that "you could argue that Willems is a wise choice to advise the group, the next best thing to having Arpaio himself endorse marijuana legalization."

Though I thought the last bit unlikely to happen, given Arpaio's history of opposition to legalization.

Neither Arpaio's official spokeswoman, Lisa Allen, nor Mom Force's Inman immediately responded to requests for comment. 

However, Inman features a photo her and Arpaio shaking hands on the front page of her organization's website, beneath a header touting: "The Arizona Report: How the Legal Regulation of Cannabis Will Benefit Arizona."

Inman offers this description of a visit to Arpaio's office:

"America's Toughest Sheriff understands medical marijuana. I have had the privilege of meeting with Sheriff Joe, and we discussed the many benefits of cannabis (marijuana). He knows folks are using less pharmaceuticals by trying this natural alternative for pain, as a sleep aid, and for many other ailments. He supports medical marijuana, and he is glad people are getting healthy and feeling better, naturally."
If so, that's a 180 from 2010, when he appeared at a press conference given by those opposing the measure.

On the other hand, Arpaio did open the door a crack to medical marijuana in an interview he did for a 2007 documentary.

"I don't know if I'm strictly opposed to medical marijuana.[if it] can help the dying patient," he told his interviewer. "But it has to be dispensed by a doctor, just like codeine and other drugs."

I did get hold of Arpaio's moneyman, Willems, via Facebook and asked about Arpaio's appearance at the Mom Force meeting on Saturday.

"Be careful what you wish for," Willems replied, wryly.

I asked him if he had orchestrated Arpaio's appearance at the Sun City event.

"If only I were that clever," he wrote. "I'm flattered you think so."

Willems' false modesty aside, even if Arpaio never directly endorses legalization, he could still turn on his army of elderly followers to the benefits of hitting the bong, thereby helping the MMP's cause and, naturally, Willems' bottom line. 
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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons

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