Arizona Chamber of Commerce to Offer Anti-Marijuana Class to "Sound the Alarm" Against Legalization

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce is offering an anti-cannabis workshop next month with prohibitionist county attorneys Bill Montgomery and Sheila Polk to help "sound the alarm" on a proposed legalization initiative.

The Chamber will offer the March 2 invite-only workshop to corporate legal advisers, human resources professionals, risk managers, and compliance officers.

Made up of representatives from the cream of Arizona's business community, the high-powered group came out against the planned initiative in June and donated $10,000 to an opposing group in December.

The primary legalization proposal, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona, is expected to achieve enough valid signatures to make the November ballot. Leaders of a second, scrappier legalization campaign, Arizonans for Mindful Regulation, haven't given up on their desire to put a more liberal option before voters.

The most recent polls on the issue show that state voters, who in 2010 narrowly legalized medical marijuana, are split about 50-50 on the question of Colorado-style legalization that would include cannabis retail stores for adults 21 and older.

It makes sense to analyze the possible effects of cannabis freedom and what it means to employers and businesses. But an e-mail to Chamber of Commerce  members this week by the group's general counsel, Brett Johnson, suggests that the workshop will be political rather than educational.

States Johnson's e-mail, obtained by New Times from a source:

"The proponents’ goal is to create a massive ballot initiative that, if passed, will significantly impact the ability of companies to operate and control their workforces. There is no doubt that this law will lead to extensive litigation.

"One of the Chamber’s main objectives is to identify proposed laws that will negatively impact businesses, sound the alarm early, and work to ensure that bad proposed policy does not turn into bad law. If this initiative were to pass, we are certain that companies’ senior management will ask, 'Why didn’t we know about this sooner and try to do something about it?' In an effort to avoid this scenario and to raise awareness in the business community about the initiative, the Chamber is hosting a program to educate the legal professionals and risk managers that advise your organization."

An accompanying flyer in the e-mail touts that the program may qualify lawyers for up to one hour of required continuing legal education credit. But the most interesting part, as the flyer shows, is that anti-cannabis crusaders Polk and Montgomery will have seats at the round table.

Republican Maricopa County Attorney Montgomery has extensive experience on the losing side of legal questions related to legalized marijuana.

 Montgomery joined an early attempt by former Governor Jan Brewer and state Attorney General Tom Horne to get a federal court to overturn voters' medical-marijuana wishes. Montgomery and the rest were slapped down by a federal judge.

Montgomery advised the county Board of Supervisors that it was okay to reject a planned dispensary because the law was on his side — a county judge rejected his theories, and the dispensary is in operation today.

The county attorney warned that his legal interpretation of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act meant he could file felony charges against anyone who made concentrated marijuana for edibles or tinctures. When a family desperate to obtain a legal tincture under the law sued, another county judge sided against Montgomery.

Both Montgomery and Polk struck out last year with their bid to legalize their expenditure of public funds to fight a marijuana proposal. [Clarification: Montgomery's spokesman, Jerry Cobb, called to point out that the county attorneys had asked state Attorney General Mark Brnovich for guidance about public resources as opposed to asking directly to spend public funds. As a previous New Times article indicated, Polk had $50,000 in RICO funds transferred to an anti-legalization group, but a records request turned up no such expenditure by Montgomery's office. Montgomery, Polk, and other elected officials, according to Brnovich's clarified ruling published in July, still have a First Amendment right to speak out about an election matter.] 

Like any bold new law, the initiative, if successful, may require litigation to sort out its finer legal points, as did the 2010 medical-marijuana law.

Employers and employees would need to sort out the new relationship, answering questions such as whether an employer could — or should — be able to fire employees for off-duty marijuana use that took place days or weeks ago. Employers indeed could worry that a new Arizona law may "significantly impact the ability of companies to operate and control" their employees — and employees could worry that employers want to exert too much control over their personal lives.

The bottom line is that while some anecdotal evidence from Colorado may make it seem the state's workforce is too high since legalization, the overwhelming reality is that Colorado's economy continues to do very well, with an outlook for jobs that exceeds national averages.

With biased advice from Montgomery and Polk, and guided by an openly anti-pot Chamber of Commerce, the workshop appears to be a blatant attempt to spread political propaganda.