New Marijuana-Legalization Ballot Campaign Launched in Arizona

A new marijuana-legalization initiative campaign was filed with the state today, but its organizers aren't ready to say much about it.

The chairman of the campaign, Dr. Gina Berman, is the same chairman of the Marijuana Policy Project of Arizona initiative campaign launched in September.

The MPP group, which was responsible for the 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, has been working with various stakeholders' groups -- or not working with them, depending on who you talk to -- and hasn't yet released an official draft initiative.

Berman's new group doesn't have any ballot language to offer the public yet, either. And she's not answering questions about today's filing or why she's apparently now running two campaigns.

See also: -Arizona Marijuana-Legalization Campaign for 2016 Ballot Measure Becomes Official

"A new committee formed Friday plans to file a ballot initiative to allow adults to purchase small amounts of marijuana for private use and provide new programs for the legal oversight and taxation of the marijuana industry with tax revenue invested into education," Berman, an M.D., states in a news release issued by the group this afternoon. "We look forward to an energetic campaign focused on the public benefits of responsible marijuana regulations."

Barrett Marson, spokesman for the group, says Berman declines to comment further for today. Berman also didn't return a phone call placed to the number listed on the state filing for the group. It's the same number for the Giving Tree Wellness Center, a medical-marijuana dispensary where Berman acts as medical director.

More information about the group and its plan will be released in coming weeks, Marson says.

State records show the group's treasurer is William H. Gibbs. Interestingly, the group seems to have borrowed its name from an opponent: Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, headed up by Seth Leibsohn and Sally Schindel, filed with the state last month as an official campaign to oppose any cannabis-legalization measure.

Local lawyer Ryan Hurley, the treasurer of the earlier campaign, tells New Times this afternoon that he doesn't know why Berman is now the chairman of a new campaign. He hopes to learn more soon, he says, and that the two groups eventually come together as one.

His group is still a few weeks away from releasing its draft ballot language, he says.

Ideas floated by MPP in recent weeks have been dissected, and in some cases heavily criticized, by various legal-cannabis advocates. Social media has been lighting up with debates about whether an initiative should contain a provision for Arizonans to grow their own marijuana, and which agency should be utilized to run the regulation side.

Polls have shown that a majority of Arizonans -- not necessarily voters -- might be for outright legalization and regulation of cannabis. Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project told New Times writer Matthew Hendley earlier this month that he'd guess based on various polls that half of the state's voters support a ballot initiative.

In 2010, Arizona voters passed the medical-marijuana initiative by a mere 4,341 votes out of nearly 1.7 million votes cast. (Take note of narrow races like these: Your vote really does count.)

A 2016 ballot initiative will require about 200,000 signatures to get on the ballot.

Nationwide, more states have joined the trend to end marijuana prohibition. In November, Washington D.C., Oregon and Alaska joined Colorado and Washington state in allowing adults 21 and older to use marijuana legally.

Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.

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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.