Sheila Polk and Seth Leibsohn Flee New Times' Questions About Their Anti-Legalization Lawsuit

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk (left) and radio talk-show host Seth Leibsohn (right) respond to questions from a New Times staff writer on Tuesday morning.
Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk (left) and radio talk-show host Seth Leibsohn (right) respond to questions from a New Times staff writer on Tuesday morning.
Ray Stern

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk and talk-show host Seth Leibsohn don't want Arizonans to be able to decide whether marijuana should remain a felony-level drug or become as legal as beer.

But following a brief hearing regarding the lawsuit they filed seeking to nullify a measure widely expected to appear on ballots this November, they didn't care to elaborate for the edification of New Times readers.

Polk and Leibsohn, who call themselves conservatives despite their evident opposition to individual freedoms, fled questions from New Times and even halted a brief interview with other reporters when New Times held up a microphone. Leibsohn, whose radio show on AM 960 The Patriot makes for an excellent non-pharmaceutical sleep aid between the hours of 6 and 8 p.m. on weeknights, maintained radio silence as he walked with Polk to their vehicle.

"Why don't voters deserve a chance to vote on this thing?" New Times asked Polk.

"I have no comment for you," said Polk, who complained to a Prescott reporter last year that New Times has made a "target" of her for her strong stance against legalizing marijuana.

Leibsohn's reticence might be understandable: As an employee of Salem Interactive Media, he may not want his bosses to think he's attempting to quash voter rights on their behalf.

Polk, however, wants voters in Yavapai County — home of Prescott's famous, Prohibition-busting Whiskey Row — to elect her to a fifth four-year term in November. As an elected official, you'd think she'd feel some responsibility to speak to the press about her lawsuit, which seeks to banish from the ballot an initiative that drew 258,699 voter signatures statewide.

Then again, Polk and Leibsohn chair Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, a group that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from various donors — including local employers, the parent company of the local electric utility, and the alcohol industry. Leibsohn has said his group will take money from anyone who gives it.

New Times has previously caught Polk disseminating misinformation, such as the time she told an audience at Arizona State University that Coloradans were going to reject their 2012 legalization law, at a time when polls showed the law had gained in voter support.

Polk and Leibsohn are in it to win it (by defeating it), and reporters asking pesky questions are best ignored.

As New Times writer Miriam Wasser reported last week, Polk, Leibsohn, and several other advocates of keeping marijuana illegal filed suit last week, claiming that the legalization measure, dubbed the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act (RTMA), shouldn't be on the ballot, in part because its petition summary didn't summarize everything the proposal does in the 100 words allowed.

The lawsuit also states that the initiative is too confusing for voters. As evidence, it cites a February 25 New Times article that describes how Carlos Alfaro, the campaign's political director, stated in a video that cities can ban home cultivation even though the proposal allows adults 21 and older to grow up to six plants legally. A lawyer for the campaign told New Times at the time that Alfaro was "confused" and had misspoken in the video.

Missing from the lawsuit, however, is what happens now to people in Polk County and elsewhere in Arizona when authorities find out they're growing even a couple of marijuana plants: SWAT team raids, children separated from parents, homes and property destroyed, jail, and a serious, Class 4 felony charge. Yet that's what the lawsuit is really about: Polk's right to ruin lives over a plant less harmful to people than the beer sold by her benefactors in the booze industry.

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The proposed law would remove the felony status for marijuana possession in Arizona for up to 2.5 ounces. Under the new law, it would be perfectly legal for adults 21 and older to possess one ounce and six live plants. Possession of more than an ounce but not more than 2.5 ounces would be a civil violation. Those under 21 who don't exceed the statutory limits would also avoid felony arrest. The RTMA also calls for a system of adult-use retail shops, run largely by existing Arizona medical-marijuana companies. And it creates a new government agency to provide oversight.

This morning's hearing lasted only a few minutes. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jo Lynn Gentry set oral arguments in the case for August 12 at 1:30 p.m.

Not all the legalization campaign's signatures will be deemed valid, of course — which means it's not yet certain that if the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act will appear on the ballot.

A spokesman for Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan, a defendant in the case, said on Monday that the signatures would likely be sent to the state's 15 counties for verification today. The counties have 15 business days after receiving the signatures to check them against voter-registration rolls.

After that, Reagan's office has three business days to make a decision about whether the petition drive was successful, according to spokesman Matt Roberts.

Chances are good that the legalization campaign reached its mark, considering that it was required to submit 150,642 valid voter signatures.

Roberts added that Reagan takes no position in the case, and that as the state's chief election officer, she had to be named in the lawsuit.


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