A New Times reporter must have a "vested interest" to do extensive reporting on a marijuana-legalization initiative expected to be on the Arizona ballot in November, a pot advocate claims falsely in a trash-talking YouTube video.
It's another example of the nasty fight between legalization supporters over two competing initiatives that may grow even uglier in coming months.
The Campaign to Legalize Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona, (CRMLA), backed by the national Marijuana Policy Project and Arizona dispensaries, has been criticized by some of the state's most vocal and passionate cannabis users for not going far enough and because it benefits the existing medical-marijuana-business community. These advocates support the grassroots Campaign to Legalize and Regulate Marijuana in Arizona, pushed by the activist group Arizonans for Mindful Regulation, (AzFMR).
As New Times reported in September in the feature article, "Stoner War," AzFMR leader Jason Medar threatens to turn his army of volunteers against the CRMLA if the grassroots campaign fails to collect enough signatures to make it on November's ballot. Last month, Medar announced that the group had collected more than 95,000 signatures — impressive, but far short of the 200,000 needed by July to ensure at least 150,000 valid signatures to make the ballot.
Manuel Chavez, director of technology for Fyresite, a website-making company that rents a basement office in the New Times building at 1201 East Jefferson Street in Phoenix, jumps into the fray occasionally with pro-AzFMR videos he posts on his YouTube channel, Defango.
On February 8, Chavez blasts the author of this article for having a "vested interest" in the CRMLA, which he says explains why New Times writes more articles about the CRMLA than the AzFMR proposal:
"Come on, Ray Stern, we know that you're obviously in this somehow — you're probably one of these people that's been donating money to these guys."
Noting that the AzFMR has collected thousands of signatures with volunteers (in contrast to the CRMLA, which has a $1 million budget and hires paid petition gatherers), Chavez claims that "nobody cares" about the MPP — an initiative that even its opponents admit likely will be on the November ballot. He bleats that the MPP must be "lining" the author's "pockets."
"Your money is in there somewhere," Chavez insists in the video. "There's no way you would have written this many articles about the MPP unless you had a vested interest in it."
Chavez goes on that he's calling out the author and goads New Times to come see him. Such a visit resulted in a chat with Chavez's co-workers. But Chavez wasn't there, and he failed to return messages for comment or to set up a future meeting..
For the record, the author neither had donated or taken money or anything else from the Marijuana Policy Project or any other political group.
New Times has covered the MPP's proposed law more because it has the best chance of making the ballot, and for other reasons that meet typical criteria for newsworthiness. For example, the CRMLA's chair, J.P. Holyoak, has engaged in numerous debates with top pot-prohibitionists including Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery and Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk.
AzFMR, the most recent campaign-finance statements filed with the state show, has collected only $5,000 in cash so far, and about $7,000 in in-kind contributions of goods and services. It's a scrappy and enthusiastic effort, but this year it's probably doomed to failure.
Die-hards like Chavez don't want to accept that reality. And that's okay — up until the point they're spewing lies.
UPDATE: Chavez put a comment on the article saying he's "removed the Video at the request of Fyresite" and that he'll "be uploading it again with some updates."
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UPDATE March 9: Chavez uploads a new video with his "final thoughts" on the flap and its aftermath. No dissection necessary for this one. (Scroll to end for video.)