Arizona Pot-Legalization Foes Take Bucks from Booze Biz

The height of hypocrisy for this Arizona campaign season may have been reached: The pot prohibitionists who want to keep cannabis a felony in Arizona have accepted a large donation from the alcohol industry, New Times has learned.

A spokeswoman for Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, the anti-cannabis-legalization group led by AM talk radio host Seth Leibsohn and Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, confirmed that the Arizona Wine and Spirits Wholesale Association, led by David Bart of Young's Market Company, made a $10,000 donation last month.

Bart didn't return a call seeking comment.

ARDP claims the Arizona Wine and Spirits Wholesale Association is supporting the anti-legalization group with the belief that people will drink less if adults have the freedom to use marijuana legally.

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As of the most recent campaign-finance report filed with the state on January 31, ARDP had raised more than $90,000. The latest contributions, including $50,000 from Empire Southwest LLC and $10,000 from a man named Scott Savage in Sylvania, Ohio, still leave the group's fundraising efforts far short of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona.

The CRMLA, which has raised nearly $1 million from local dispensaries and the national Marijuana Policy Project, appears to be nearly ready to submit enough signatures to qualify for November's ballot. A second legalization initiative, Arizonans for Mindful Regulation, is struggling to collect signatures with passionate volunteers and a shoestring budget of just a few thousand dollars. Polls show that Arizona voters are split on the question of legalizing marijuana for all adults.

Leibsohn and Polk have long claimed that they oppose marijuana legalization because of the possible negative impact on children. Yet by taking cash from the booze industry, they're supporting a substance that's proven to cause American children far greater suffering.

Unlike marijuana, which is very prevalent in the United States despite being illegal, alcohol is directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of American children each year. About 40,000 babies are born each year with fetal alcohol syndrome, but there's no such thing as fetal cannabis syndrome. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributes 4,300 deaths yearly directly to underage drinking.

And now alcohol is Polk and Leibsohn's new best friend. They and their buddies in the booze industry want you to stop toking or go to jail. For the children.

But get this: ARDP claims the Arizona Wine and Spirits Wholesale Association is supporting the anti-legalization group with the belief that people will drink more if adults have the freedom to use marijuana legally.

It should come as no surprise that a member of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry would contribute to ARDP, considering the chamber's anti-legalization stance, says Melissa DeLaney, ARDP spokeswoman.

"And given how much the alcohol industry potentially stands to gain if the initiative passes, as seen in Colorado, their support speaks volumes about how poorly written this initiative is for hard-working Arizonans," DeLaney says.

That's right — the trade association is making a supreme sacrifice for the good of Arizonans, according to ARDP. The pro-alcohol group has seen statistics from Colorado that indicate how alcohol sales have increased since adult-use legalization, and they still want to shoot down marijuana legalization in Arizona, according to DeLaney.

However, there's a greater indication that the alcohol industry still views legal marijuana as a possible competitor. Alcohol-lobby groups have contributed to anti-pot-legalization campaigns in the past, long before they knew about increased alcohol sales in Colorado in the mid-2010s. Those sales, in fact, may be related to increased tourism in Colorado (which could be a result of legal marijuana).

Daniel Rees, an economics professor at the University of Colorado–Denver, has conducted research that shows people tend to substitute marijuana use for alcohol instead of regularly using both.

In any case, it's doubtful the Arizona Wine and Spirits Wholesale Association is using its members' money to hurt its own cause.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.