Arizona Pro-Marijuana Forces Steamrolling Pot Prohibitionists in Fundraising

New reports show the finances of an anti-marijuana group lag well behind a pro-legalization campaign.

Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy (ARDP), led by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, collected $90,095 in contributions from November 25, 2014, to December 31, 2015, according to campaign-finance reports released last week. After spending $19,000 of it on the fundraiser, legal fees, a website, and printed promotional materials, the group had $70,411 on hand by the end of last year.

Compared to financing of nearly a million dollars for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona (CRMLA), the pot prohibitionists' effort is getting steamrolled.

The pro-cannabis group, backed by the national Marijuana Policy Project, is on track to put an adult-use legalization measure on the Arizona ballot this November. It's raised nearly $900,000 since 2014, spent $474,556, and had $495,325 on hand as of December 31. Organizers say they've collected — with the help of paid petition gatherers — about the 150,000 signatures they need to make the ballot, but they're shooting for 225,000 to make sure they have enough valid ones. The measure would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of cannabis or grow up to six plants without penalty, and creates a system of licensed retail stores that would sell cannabis products.

Campaign money isn't the only factor in the race, though. Supporters of the attempt to defeat the CRMLA comes from influential business groups. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association each gave $10,000 in late December.

The ARDP chose to have its October 14 fundraiser at the Main Ingredient Ale House and Cafe. The event cost $16,000 to put on, at least $172 of which was spent on alcoholic beverages. Most of what the group has raised came in after the fundraiser, records show. 

Fain Signature Group, a Prescott-area development company, chipped in $5,000. (Worth a footnote: The company's CEO, Sean Bradlee Fain, was investigated for DUI in 2012, says an online story from in the Daily Courier.)

Other large business contributions to the prohibitionist group in recent weeks include $9,500 from Sun State Builders, $5,000 from Desert de Oro Foods Inc., and $5,000 from Axiom Public Affairs. Jim Chamberlain, president of Sun State Builders, gave $9,900 of his own money to the effort. Tim Jeffries, new director of the state Department of Economic Security who fired scores of employees he called "liars" and "bullies," and his wife each donated $500.

One of the biggest donors so far is Polk herself, who's given $7,600 of her own cash — not to mention immense amounts of time. Her husband, Thomas Polk, gave an additional $2,500.

Most of the CRMLA's money has come from two sources: the national Marijuana Policy Project, which has put in more than $300,000, and various Arizona medical-marijuana dispensaries, which contributed nearly all of the rest. About $178,000 of dispensary money was collected and dispersed to the CRMLA by Arizonans for Responsible Legalization, chaired by Gina Berman, M.D., listed as the "owner" of the nonprofit Giving Tree Wellness Center, one of the state's nonprofit dispensaries. It appears that most of Arizona's dispensaries, which collectively sold about 19 tons of cannabis products last year for an estimated take of $215 million, have donated amounts from a few thousand to more than $15,000 each.

Just $692 was collected in small amounts of $25 or less by the CRMLA.

Some of the grassroots money, so to speak, has been vacuumed up by another group, Arizonans for Mindful Regulation, which has a proposed ballot initiative called the Campaign to Legalize and Regulate Marijuana. The anti-MPP pro-cannabis activists who support the group have donated roughly $5,000. (UPDATE: That's how much cash they've given. The group also took in $7,000 in donated goods and services, bringing the total value of contributions to $12,000.)

The medical-marijuana businesses backing the MPP's bill stand to benefit greatly under the proposal, which gives them an initial headstart on competitors who would open cannabis retail stores, plus preference in obtaining state licenses. That's why they've donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the legalization initiative, and it's also why some of the grassroots supporters are waging a relentless social-media campaign against the MPP bill.

Yet polls show that if the CRMLA/MPP bill makes it on the ballot, it could be a close election. The most recent publicly released survey puts the question at 50-50 among voters. Republicans and older folks remain strongly opposed to the idea.

Lisa James, a local Republican strategist and former deputy chief of staff for Arizona Congressman John Shadegg, had a "Just Vote No" website built with resources from her husband's company, Gordon C. James Public Relations. In a column published in newspapers in June, James writes that she wants Arizonans to defeat the legalization measure because of her 44-year-old brother who "has spent half his adult life in jail, prison, or rehab." She claims that his "smoking pot in high school led to crack cocaine, bath salts, and meth."

She tells New Times that her brother, Larry Roy Woodward of Salem, Illinois, recently has been released from jail and "seems to have been clean while helping care for my dad who we lost [January 16.] His kids are also doing great."

J.P. Holyoak, who chairs the CRMLA, says that the involvement of conservatives like Polk and James are examples of "hypocrisy at its finest." Someone who claims to be a "champion of individual freedoms and responsibility" can't turn around and support "nanny state" government policies, he says. "Regardless of how much money the other side has, [its] message is firmly rooted in lies and fear tactics."