Marijuana

Dispensaries Shake Up Chances for Marijuana Legalization in Arizona in 2016

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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:

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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.