Arizona's Week in Weed: APS Parent Donates to Anti-Pot Group; Fife Symington IV's Greenhouse

From the tons sold in legal medical-marijuana dispensaries to the tons imported each year from Mexico, Arizona knows its cannabis. Here's a roundup of last week's biggest pot news stories that affect the Grand Canyon State...

APS Parent Company Pinnacle West Donates to Arizona Anti-Legalization Campaign
Powering up your computer or enjoying climate-controlled air may mean that you just helped contribute to keeping marijuana a felony in Arizona.

Pinnacle West Capital Corporation, the parent company of the state's largest utility, Arizona Public Service, has made a $10,000 contribution to an Arizona political group opposed to legalizing marijuana.

APS has long been suspected of using Pinnacle West money to donate to favored Arizona Corporation Commission candidates and is now the subject of seemingly related FBI inquiries, according to a recent Arizona Republic article.

Might we suggest another area of investigation for the G-men?

Namely, the ARDP, headed up by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk and Bill Bennett suck-up Seth Leibsohn. Not that they're accused of doing anything wrong, but maybe they can help explain to the public how APS/Pinnacle West gets to run a monopoly utility in which ratepayers are essentially forced to contribute to political campaigns they don't like.

Pinnacle West made its donation to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy on May 31 as part of a recent boost of the group's financial resources. ARDP showed it had about $90,000 in the January 31 mandatory state filing, but now has more than $400,000 in its war chest.

The next complete campaign-finance report for political committees and candidates isn't due until June 30, but contributions in excess of $10,000 must be reported to the state as they come in.

As New Times noted last month after reviewing the latest filings, ARDP undercut its public-safety message by taking $10,000 from an alcohol-industry lobby group. But it has also proved efficient in general at collecting cash, raking in $200,000 in the last couple of weeks. The June 30 filing will reveal what the group has been spending its money on, or whether it's just saving up.

A legalization measure is almost certain to be on the ballot in November. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona claims to be nearly finished with its petition drive and expects to turn in more than the 150,000 or so signatures it needs by July 7.

From the latest records at the Arizona Secretary of State's Office, here are the people and businesses that have donated to ARDP since mid-May:

  • Larry Clemmensen of Paradise Valley, former executive with the investment firm Capital Group Companies: $25,000

  • Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Phoenix: $10,000 and $50,000

  • U-Haul, Phoenix: $25,000

  • Daniel and Carleen Brophy of Jackson, Wyoming: $10,000

  • Pinnacle West Capital Corporation, Phoenix: $10,000

  • Sun State Builders,. Tempe: $10,000

  • Microchip Technology Incorporated, Chandler: $25,000

  • Robson Communities Inc., Sun Lakes: $25,000

  • Bill and Julie Lavidge, Phoenix: $10,000
It's no surprise that Pinnacle West has an extra 10 grand to use for thwarting the wishes of half of its customers: APS is seeking a rate hike that would add up to $166 million to its revenue annually.

Fife Symington IV, Son of Former Arizona Governor, Plans to Grow Medical Pot
Back in 1997, the Los Angeles Times reported how Arizona Governor J. Fife Symington III — according to his spokesman, Doug Cole — was pushing a bill to permanently stall a pioneering medical-marijuana law approved by voters.

How times have changed: Symington's son, Fife Symington IV, and Cole were recently pictured on a northeastern Arizona news site in an article about plans to start up a medical-marijuana cultivation facility.

Symington IV, who has years of experiencing running produce companies with his friend Alejandro Canelos, is waiting for the town of Snowflake to approve the operation for his firm, Copperstate Farms.

"My plan is to put about five acres into production, a little over 10 percent of the existing facility, and to grow high-quality medicine at a good price," he said, according to reporter Naomi Hatch, writing for the Silver Creek Herald and

Symington IV told the paper he expects the business will employ 136 people with decent wages and good benefits.

Not everyone is looking forward to it.

Charles Sheldon of Snowflake tells New Times that residents there don’t welcome Fife Symington's family and "do not want to turn our town into the pot capital of the Southwest." Sheldon referred to 1997 New Times articles such as "Symington Family Partner Under Suspicion," which detailed how Canelos, who's from Tucson but whose family is from Culiacán, Sinaloa, had come to the attention of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Less Than an Ounce of Pot Found in Most Arizona DPS Cases
About 90 percent the marijuana seizures made by Arizona Department of Public Safety officers amount to less than an ounce, DPS Captain Damon Cecil tells New Times.

It's an interesting factoid, considering that Arizona voters may choose in November's election to make an ounce of marijuana legal for adults 21 and older.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona would also make it legal for adults to grow up to six plants in their homes and buy cannabis products in a system of retail stores. Possession of between an ounce and 2.5 ounces under the CRMLA would be a subject to a $300 fine under a civil offense; having more than 2.5 ounces would be a felony.

The state crime lab run by DPS processed marijuana evidence from 7,801 separate investigative cases between February 1, 2015, and May 20 of this year, Cecil says. They include cases from DPS as well as many other law-enforcement jurisdictions in Arizona that contract to use the state lab. An analysis was conducted on 12,835 "items" from those cases, Cecil says.

The agency was able to determine that 23,500 pounds from the cases were from "significant seizures." Without a major research project, the DPS can't say how many pounds were from lesser seizures, Cecil says, much less exactly how many of the 7,801 cases involved less than an ounce.

"However, our criminalists have stated through anecdotal experience, that a significant portion, maybe upwards of 90 percent, are one ounce or less," he says.

The CRMLA would reduce penalties for people under 21 caught with marijuana, taking away the felony charge but allowing police to cite violators for a civil offense.

Many of these seized smaller amounts may have been discovered in a vehicle during a roadside stop, Cecil says, pointing out that even if the CRMLA measure is approved by voters, drivers in vehicles that reek of weed might still be searched to discern whether the amount of marijuana surpasses the statutory limit.

In Scottsdale, which records the weight of each seizure of marijuana (unlike Phoenix and several other local cities), nearly all people caught with weed in one recent month would not have faced any penalty for their marijuana under the CRMLA measure.

Looking at February statistics, Scottsdale police arrested 39 people for possession of marijuana and, in some cases, other offenses as well. In only one of the cases did the suspect have more than an ounce of marijuana. That case involved 60 grams, or slightly more than two ounces. The other weights ran from one gram to 17 grams, with most at about one gram.

If the CRMLA measure is approved and goes into effect in 2017,  thousands of people won't face charges for possession of marijuana in Arizona.

According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, (NORML), more than 15,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in Arizona in 2012.

In 2013, Phoenix police released statistics to New Times showing that officers arrested about 10 people a day, on average, for marijuana possession. New Times later estimated — based on Maricopa County Jail information — that about half of those were suspected of no other crime.
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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.