Mo’ Money, Mo’ Power

More on the meanderings of Arizona’s legal and anti-legalization MJ initiatives

Here's the thing about citizens initiatives: anyone can file them—it's free—but to see one successfully land on the ballot, you need a shitload of money. That's why the Marijuana Policy Project's Barrett Marson is quite confident the group's Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is going to prevail in 2016.

The group has already accumulated more than $300,000 and roughly 25,000 signatures in a little more than a month, and Marson expects the contributions and support to keep on flowing.

With four other marijuana-related measures collecting signatures, Marson has a question, "Do they have the money behind them?"

Robert Clark, co-chairman of Safer Arizona, which joined forces with the group Arizona for Mindful Regulation (they filed their initiative last week), says they have close to 300 volunteers and recently began their fundraising efforts. "We are not worried about MPP's funding. We will be collecting signatures and educating the public about all initiatives and the harms of prohibition," he says. "They may have more funds at this time, but we have the truth."

To Marson, it's about who's backing you up, and as far as making the ballot, they know they're the sole option. "It is an expensive effort to qualify something for the ballot," he says.

Anti-legalization groups are also gearing up, though. And with Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall and Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk also on that anti-weed train, a lot of these groups might look good with some solid allies.

Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy became an official political action committee in the spring. The PAC's chairman, Seth Leibsohn, says that, although they don't like to throw out specific figures, the group's goal is to raise and spend as much as necessary to annihilate legal weed.

The foundation of the campaign is to make a case for what they see as the harms of marijuana. Leibsohn says he has two-years-worth of peer reviewed articles from around the world, which the PAC will distribute at educational panels and community forums around the state. They are also partnering with state legislators and medical associations in every county.

"The campaign by the legalization folks and lobbyist from D.C. are making marijuana seem harmless or less harmful than it is. Ironically, scientific reports are coming out on the effects it has on the adolescent brain, for instance. Medical journals are showing the harms that come from marijuana, cognitive brain development, in some cases psychosis. It is a wake-up call to people," he says, adding he expects the MPP measure will be up for vote in the general election next year. "For Arizona to legalize marijuana would be the end of decades and decades of hard work in our health care and adolescent system to prevent substance abuse and addiction."

AZRDP and Pima County's Community Prevention Coalition (you've seen their "Marijuana Harmless? Think Again" ads around town, right?) use Colorado as the Holy Grail of reasons to keep Arizona from going down the same path.

Studies like the Rocky Mountain HIDTA report shows a correlation between legalization and increased use by youth, an approximate 26 percent increase in monthly weed smoking among kids 12 to 17 years old in Colorado. Also, "On high school campuses, there was a 32 percent increase in drug related suspensions and expulsions, most notably from intoxication while in school," says Amy Bass, head of the Pima County Community Prevention Coalition. The group has been making noise against marijuana and substance abuse since 2006. "As a state that has faced many struggles in education already, adding legal marijuana use to the equation is not a recipe for success. There are also additional concerns for the general population."

Bass says the real reason MPP is pushing for legal weed so hard is to make a grand profit off people who smoke green. As a nonprofit, she knows they don't have millions of dollars, but they have other things on their side that'll hopefully make it a harder fight for MPP.

Neither Bass nor Leibsohn are buying the economic benefits MPP says legalization would bring the state. Undoubtedly money will come in, but even more will come out in the form of substance abuse programs for instance, according to both.

The tax revenue numbers coming out of Colorado are tempting, though. The weed industry took in $700 million last year, with $63 million in tax revenue and $13 million from licenses and fees, according to a report by the Washington Post, with an anticipated $94 million in revenue next year. WAPO suggests the figures are probably higher if you add up retail sales of products related to marijuana. A lot of these monies are being invested in education, and MPP plans to do the same here.

When he hears concerns for the youth, Marson wants to remind anti-weed groups that MPP's measure would legalize use for adults 21 and over, and would establish criminal consequences for individuals who sell to minors.

"Prohibition does not work. It hasn't worked for marijuana, just like it didn't work for alcohol," he says. (MPP's initiative needs more than 150,000 signatures, but Marson says they expect to have way more than 200,000, in case some of the signatures are invalid.) "Marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, and it is well past time to make adult use of marijuana legal. Right now, marijuana is in the hands of the cartels. The cartels grow, distribute and sell it here in Arizona and across the country. This is an opportunity to regulate and tax it, take that away from the cartels, and bring in much needed state money to education and ensure marijuana is regulated for adult use."

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