Dispensaries Shake Up Chances for Marijuana Legalization in Arizona in 2016

The chances of a successful marijuana-legalization initiative in Arizona for 2016 appear to have diminished due to fighting among two competing political groups.

As we reported on March 27, the Marijuana Policy Project of Arizona was surprised by the sudden launch of a competing 2016 campaign by their chairperson, Dr. Gina Berman.

A leaked online survey shows that a coalition of Arizona medical-marijuana dispensaries are backing Berman's group.

See also: -New Marijuana-Legalization Ballot Campaign Launched in Arizona

Even if two campaigns could each pull in enough donor money to pay for the hundreds of thousands of signatures that would need to be gathered, the presence of two similar measures on the ballot would probably mean trouble for both. Polls show marijuana legalization support runs 50-50 in Arizona, at best. The 2010 medical-marijuana initiative put on the ballot by the MPP passed by a mere 4,341 votes out of nearly 1.7 million cast.

Confusingly, the new campaign fashioned its name -- Arizonans for Responsible Legalization -- after the name of the new anti-legalization group, Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy. Berman hasn't granted media interviews since last Friday's launch and news release, leaving the talking to hired spokesman Barrett Marson.

The dispute allegedly concerns whether an initiative should contain a cap on the number of marijuana retail outlets, and whether Arizonans should be allowed to grow a small amount of marijuana for their personal use. Neither side has yet released a draft initiative, though the MPP -- having launched its campaign officially in September -- is further along in the process and has a draft being reviewed current by the state's Legislative Council.

Rob Kampia, executive director of the MPP in Washington D.C., wrote to Berman that he was "shocked" at her departure from the Arizona MPP effort and that her stated reasons for the split were unfounded. He threatened to retaliate against the Valley dispensary where Berman works as medical director.

"I've come to conclude there's a sickness on your team, but I don't know where it's originating from," Kampia wrote in a March 29 email. "I'm already budgeting $10,000 (as of Friday) to pay people for 1,000 hours of time to distribute literature outside of your front door, and the literature will not portray you in a kind way."

"Distributing literature will be one of four or five tactics to disrupt your business; again, this will all be legal," he told her.

In a written response Marson sent to New Times, (along with Kampia's email), Berman told Kampia she'd consider suing him and the MPP if he interfered with the business.

"Because your retaliation would likely injure ARL and interfering with its activities and relationships by discouraging others from supporting its ballot measure campaign, ARL may independently pursue legal claims against MPP and you if and when you carry through on your threats of retaliation," Berman wrote.

MPP's nonprofit status could be scrutinized by the IRS if Kampia uses its funds to wage a "personal vendetta," she added.

Berman seems to have financial backing and local support from a group of dispensaries, including her own, the Giving Tree Wellness Center. This week, a SurveyMonkey survey for the choice of candidates for ARL's "campaign committee" was floated on social media (we're still trying to track down who first published it). It shows a list of dispensary representatives including Steve White of Harvest of Tempe and Kaylynn Arnold of Uncle Herb's in Payson.

Here's the graph:

Marson tells New Times the survey "shouldn't have said 'campaign committee,'" since ARL's campaign committee is as stated on last week's state filing.

The survey was conducted "to stoke volunteerism for the campaign -- to get volunteers excited," he says.

The ARL's draft initiative will likely be released in less than a month, and will be a "much more legitimate, reasonable marijuana initiative that the voters will actually approve," he says.

That sounds good. But if the medical-marijuana dispensaries fail, they still win. For them and their customers, marijuana's already legal under state law.

See next page for the groups' warring emails and statements:

Kampia's March 29 email:


(I'm cc'ing a bunch of people here, so that no one can misrepresent my words.)

Obviously, I was shocked to learn that you formed a campaign committee to compete with your own campaign committee. This is a first-time experience for me to witness.

As you know, JP and I -- and then also Kurt and Heather -- had already agreed to about 99% of the issues before Heather left the U.S. for two weeks. There were only five issues left on the table, and it was my impression that MPP would compromise on three -- and your team would compromise on two -- in order to finalize the deal. I haven't heard any argument from anyone that would lead me to believe that this deal cannot happen. Heck, even your public statements didn't state what your concerns are, so I really have no idea what your concerns are. (Also, you have my phone number and my email address.)

Yesterday, JP and I had a good conversation, wherein he summarized where he thought the problems had arisen:

- One involved an innocent conversation that two of my staffers had with a few Arizona activists, but that conversation couldn't have been instrumental, because that conference call occurred on Friday at 11:30 a.m., and I know you were fishing around the Secretary of State's office before Friday.

- The other concern was that some people on your team were concerned that our final draft wouldn't adhere to the key points of agreement, but that also cannot be a good argument, because Heather hasn't even had a chance yet to receive the Legislative Counsel's review of our initiative, nor has she had a chance to tweak the consensus initiative after our pair of conversations with JP and Kurt.

So nothing makes sense here. I've come to conclude there's a sickness on your team, but I don't know where it's originating from. The accusations, the violations of agreements, and the debating of things that have already been agreed to are unusual, to say the least. This has never happened before in the 20 states where we've drafted bills and initiatives. Also, I've never witnessed the chair of a committee form a competing committee.


We were on the 1-yard line, but your action on Friday has caused me to make some "executive decisions" here. So here are the next steps ...

1. We'll obviously need to remove you from the "MPP of Arizona" campaign committee, so please assume this will happen on Monday morning.

2. Your debit-card privileges will be aborted also, but this might not happen until Tuesday or Wednesday, because I'm traveling in Maine right now. If you take any money from the campaign account, we'll file criminal charges against you.

3. A few days after Heather returns to Minnesota, she will complete the drafting process in accord with what JP/I/Kurt/Heather have already agreed to. So you'll be able to see this for yourself -- in writing -- before we file the final initiative with the Secretary of State. (This is not a capitulation on my part; rather, it's what we already said we would do, and we keep our commitments.) This final initiative will certainly adhere to our agreement.

4. After you see that we keep our commitment, if you file a competing initiative with the Secretary of State anyway, we will specifically launch a series of actions to harm your business, in the spirit of what social-justice movements do to boycott bad companies or bad business owners. Everything we would do would be legal. For example, I'm already budgeting $10,000 (as of Friday) to pay people for 1,000 hours of time to distribute literature outside of your front door, and the literature will not portray you in a kind way. We will not target any other dispensaries; we will only target you. (There are other legal actions I have planned, so please just assume that distributing literature will be one of four or five tactics to disrupt your business; again, this will all be legal.)


As I told JP yesterday, I'm not joking around here. I spent 90 days in jail for marijuana when I refused to narc on anyone in 1989 as a student at Penn State University. As such, I'm certainly willing to spend no time in jail in order to disrupt the business of someone (you) whose actions are likely to keep people in jail for marijuana.

I'm 100% intent on keeping my two financial commitments, which are (1) to pay Carlos his salary through the end of 2016, and (2) to pay for the entire signature drive.

If your team decides to run a competing signature drive, that's a decision that you will make. It will not interfere with what we're planning. (You should also take some time to ask a random selection of political consultants whether it's better to have one initiative or two initiatives on the same ballot.)

I advise that you adhere to the process that we've created. If you don't like the process at this late hour, please at least let me know how and why? Thank you ...

Sincerely, Rob Kampia, Executive Director Marijuana Policy Project


Click here to read the response to Kampia by Gina Berman and the ARL


Kampia's subsequent April 1 email:

Dear Friends,

Because Gina Berman has misstated the facts a few times recently -- including stating that MPP was unwilling to compromise on the drafting of the legalization initiative and that MPP is advocating for an unlimited number of retail licenses -- it would be good if people know what Gina and her surrogates actually agreed to approximately 14 days ago.

Please see below for the summary of five key sections of the initiative that J.P. Holyoak, Kurt Merschman, Heather Azzi, and I agreed upon during our final pair of conversations on March 18 and 19. (It was agreed that Kurt and J.P. were representing Gina and some other dispensary operators, but certainly not all dispensary operators.) This was the result of many hundreds of hours of drafting, compromising, and tweaking.

As I've said many times already, MPP plans to adhere to this compromise agreement. Right now, we're simply waiting to hear back from the Legislative Counsel's office (in the Arizona government) for their feedback on the initiative that we originally submitted; this is supposed to happen within the next week. After that, Heather will submit the final compromise initiative to the Secretary of State, and then MPP's campaign committee will start collecting signatures. All of this adheres to the compromise agreement with the dispensaries and many other people, including activists who want to legalize growing a small number of marijuana plants at home. The entire initiative adheres to everything we agreed upon.

If the Arizona dispensaries file their own initiative with the Secretary of State and/or they renege on their agreement to donate money to the campaign, MPP would then proceed with an alternative initiative that does not adhere to the compromise agreement below. In other words, the alternative initiative would not contain protectionism for the dispensaries, but instead would be more of a free-market approach.



Cultivation licenses would be issued in various tiers that limit the amount of marijuana that the license holder can cultivate. Only the medical marijuana dispensary registration certificate holders would be authorized to receive unlimited cultivation licenses. New market participants would only qualify for the smallest license available (to de determined by rules established by the regulator), and they would be required to show that the market requires increased cultivation before earning a license to cultivate additional marijuana.



The number of retailers would be limited in number to 10% of the number of class 9 liquor licenses. Today, that number would be approximately 150. The number can increase slowly over time as new class 9 liquor licenses are issued in a county when the county's population increases by 10,000. This cap on the number of retailers would not expire or sunset. Each holder of a medical marijuana dispensary registration certificate would be preferred for these licenses and would have an early application period to enable these licenses to be obtained before other new-market applications receive licenses; however, all of the stores would be authorized to open at the same time -- January 1, 2018.



The number of licenses for these businesses would not be limited by the initiative, but would be subject to limitations imposed by rules and ordinances established by cities, towns, and counties. There would be no limit on who can apply for any of these licenses, but medical marijuana dispensary registration certificate holders would be preferred over other applicants. Every license holder would be authorized to transport marijuana to other marijuana license holders and the distribution license would be not be required. A marijuana business would merely have the option to hire a distributor to transport and store products.



A new department would be created that would be modeled after the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control. The new department would have much of the same power as the DLLC, except that the marijuana licensees would have more representation on the commission, the commission would not be able to take any action by subcommittee, and the director of the department could not be removed by the governor without cause. The new department would issue all licenses and would adopt all rules to regulate the new industry.



Arizonans would be permitted to grow up to six plants. However, the plants would only be permitted to be grown in the person's home and not in public view. Furthermore, the plants would have to be contained in a secure and locked area, and no more than two adults would be allowed to cultivate at any single location (which means a maximum of 12 plants per location). It would not be legal for an unlicensed cultivator to receive compensation for marijuana that he or she cultivates at home.


Again, MPP is adhering to the compromise plan that was reached two weeks ago. Nothing has changed.

If Gina's rival committee proceeds with a non-compromise initiative, there would then be two competing initiatives on the same ballot in November 2016.

Sincerely, Rob Kampia, Executive Director Marijuana Policy Project

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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.