Arizona Pot Prohibitionist Seth Leibsohn Says He Won't Really Debate in Favor of Legalization

A right-wing Sedona group advertises what promises to be the throwdown of the year: A debate on the merits of marijuana legalization between staunch pot prohibitionist Sheila Polk on one side and fellow anti-marijuana activist Seth Leibsohn on the other.

Yes, you read that right: The group says Leibsohn will take a pro-legalization stance in the debate.

Leibsohn, a conservative AM-radio talk-show host, is the chair of Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, a group formed to combat an adult-use legalization measure expected to be on the 2016 Arizona ballot. Yavapai County Attorney Polk is the group's vice chair.

"Concerned Citizens for America Welcomes Sheila Polk . . . and Seth Leibsohn in an open debate on 'Should Arizona Legalize Recreational Marijuana?" states the announcement on CC4A's Facebook site, (see below). "Ms. Polk will take the opposition position, Mr. Liebsohn [sic] will take the proponent position."

The event, to be open to the public, is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on January 7 at Canyon Trails Cowboy Church, 3132 White Bear Road, in Sedona. Vape pens, edibles, the "results" of the 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, the "trends in user-friendly Colorado" and other topics related to cannabis are billed to be part of the discussion. According to another announcement about the event on CC4A's website, A Panel of Activist Millennials for the Verde Valley also is playing some role.

As entertaining as watching Leibsohn argue the pro side of marijuana might be, Leibsohn and Melissa DeLaney, spokeswoman for the ARDP, say the announced debate won't actually happen as described.

"Rest assured Seth is not debating a pro-legalization stance in Sedona next month," said DeLaney, a GOP insider who formed a PR company with consultant Sean Noble after acting as Doug Ducey's spokeswoman before Ducey was elected governor in November. "There was a misunderstanding on the setup."

DeLaney didn't respond to request to elaborate on how the "misunderstanding" occurred.

A message to Concerned Citizens for America wasn't answered today. In response to an e-mail from New Times, Leibsohn wrote: "More is being made of this than need be. It's nothing. Just a wrong setup. That is all. Truly."

New Times asked him who came up with the idea to have a debate between him and Polk: "No clue," he responded. "I was asked to co-present with Sheila . . . it's obviously being corrected. As I say — just some confusion."

So, no smackdown between him and Polk?

"The debate is off, you bet," he said, adding that he's not sure how the format of the event will be different from what was advertised. "We had them redo it . . . This was a case of me not paying attention to what they scheduled once I agreed to participate."

As of this morning, however, the announcements hadn't been changed — a fact that infuriates legalization supporters.

The Arizona chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws called on Polk to "immediately take down her fraudulent promotion for an upcoming 'debate' on cannabis prohibition," says NORML's Arizona director, Mikel Weisser.

Noting that Leibsohn recently represented an anti-legalization group in a legitimate debate in April, Weisser said even suggesting that Leibsohn would pretend to be pro-cannabis is "a blatant attempt to misrepresent the structure of the event," adding, "What else is [Polk] ready to lie about to get her way?"

One thing is certain: If Leibsohn doesn't take the pro-legalization side of this event, then voters who attend will get a double dose of Reefer Madness by both Leibsohn and Polk, whose arguments against marijuana often are inaccurate.

For instance, during a June panel discussion about legalization at Arizona State University, Polk misspoke about the level of support in Colorado for legalization and claimed legalization in Colorado is a "disaster" (a fact vehemently denied by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, even though he's no fan of legalization).

She was derided by the panel's moderator when she blurted that federal pot prohibition hasn't stymied research on cannabis.

Ironically, if Leibsohn was true to his conservative values, he would talk the pro-legalization side. CC4A states prominently on its website that it supports "Fiscal Responsibility, Free Markets and Constitutionally Limited Government."

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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.
Contact: Ray Stern