Activists who oppose a measure to legalize marijuana in Arizona were excited to let the world know about a news article shared on social media that blasts the notion that passage would guarantee a tax windfall.
The Twitter site for Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, a well-funded group headed up by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk and radio talk-show host Seth Leibsohn, shared the July 14 article entitled "The Vicious Truth About Pot Revenue" three times.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery shared it on his Twitter account. State Rep. Paul Boyer (R-Phoenix), who has joined Polk in her lawsuit to deny voters the ability to change Arizona's marijuana law, called the Lifezette.com article a "MUST READ" in his retweet.
The article's author, Kristen Fischer, admitted to New Times this week that her piece was biased and tailored to meet the anti-legalization stance of the publisher, right-wing commentator, and talk-show host Laura Ingraham, who owns LifeZette.
(And yes, that would be the same Laura Ingraham who ignited a tweetflagration yesterday after appearing to maybe sorta give a Nazi salute at the close of her speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.)
Anyone who read the article carefully would first notice that it's one-sided, quoting only marijuana prohibitionists like Polk and Kevin Sabet, co-founder of the national anti-legalization group SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana). But its lack of objectivity goes deeper with the implication that the legalization measure likely to be on the ballot in Arizona this November will only bring in a fraction of the tax revenue that advocates say it will.
Fischer writes that after legalizing marijuana, the state of Colorado brought in $87 million in taxes in 2014 from the new law, but only $13.6 million from legalized sales of cannabis went to Colorado schools last year. She then states that backers of the Arizona measure claim the tax receipts from legal pot would reach $40 million a year, which could lead readers to believe the actual contributions to schools from an Arizona legalization law would be a small fraction of that $40 million.
In fact, the Arizona Joint Legislative Budget Committee, which computes the cost of new and proposed laws for lawmakers, estimated in a June 27 report that by 2020, the Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act (RTMA) would bring in $56 million annually for schools, out of a total of at least $112 million a year in overall tax revenue from retail cannabis sales.
New Times contacted Fischer, a professional ad copywriter, book author, and journalist from New Jersey, and asked her if the ARDP had paid her to produce the article.
"No, my bosses wanted it covered," Fischer wrote back. "Laura Ingraham (owns LifeZette) is against the movement and we write about legalization frequently."
Given that Fischer considers herself a journalist (at least part of the time), New Times asked her whether she wrote the piece with any attempt at objectivity, or simply to promote the political stance of LifeZette.
There's no doubting Fischer's honesty in her reply:
"The facts are facts when it comes to numbers, but when I work for LifeZette it's always a slant to the piece — their take," she wrote.
Not that the ADRP members and their supporters care that they're touting propaganda masquerading as news. This is a group that's taking money from the alcohol industry in order to promote jailing people for using marijuana.
And they've done this before. Savvy internet users should always know to consider the source.
In February, Montgomery and Leibsohn shared "Trends in Marijuana Legalization: A Wake-Up Call for Employers," an alarmist piece that targets the Arizona legalization proposal as potentially dangerous to workplace safety.
In the piece, writer Jo McGuire quotes the act as stating that "the employer cannot discipline the employee until they can prove the employee (1) performed a task under the influence (2) that constitutes negligence or professional malpractice."
In fact, that wording does not appear in the proposed measure. (Click here to read what the RTMA actually says about the right of employers to keep restrictions on marijuana use by employees; search for Chapter 36-2852 (A) 7 and (B).)
Readers of the five-page article had to make it all the way to end to see McGuire's bio, which notes that she serves on the board of directors of the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association. Only readers who do some Googling on the side would realize that McGuire is a fervent anti-legalization activist and SAM member who tours the country spreading fear about permissive pot laws.
McGuire told New Times she receives no payment for her activism or her anti-legalization articles. She's not taking money from the ARDP, but she knows the key members well from her visits to Phoenix. As New Times reported last year, McGuire spoke at a one-side presentation hosted by an offshoot of the Yavapai County-based group MATFORCE, of which Polk is a board member.
"I know people and I network with people and I maintain relationships with the vast majority of them," McGuire told New Times. "I don't work for them or represent them."
So there's no financial conflict of interest.
But no journalism, either.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.