No one on the Arizona Dispensaries Association board expected DeMenna Public Affairs to resign from representing the organization, but a letter sent to all but one board member Jan. 23 announced their departure from the association.
While the resignation letter maintains a friendly tone, referring to the "privilege" of working on various legislative projects, litigation surrounding concentrates and meeting with Governor Doug Ducey, one paragraph seems rather ominous.
The resignation letter refers to issues of "organizational discipline" that "threaten" the ADA's efforts toward legalization in 2020, as well as "accusations of racism and unprofessional conduct" leveled at the DeMennas.
Feuds between DeMenna Public Affairs and certain camps within the ADA are no secret.
In the past year, concerns have been raised over the firm's involvement in shutting down a testing regulation bill, their double role as executive director and lobbyists for the ADA and, most recently, seemingly contrary remarks about Rep. Tony Rivero's bill this year.
Kevin DeMenna, father and senior advisor to DPA partners Ryan and Joe DeMenna, told the Yellow Sheet Report the departure was largely due to disagreements with Tucson's very own Moe Asnani, owner of Downtown Dispensary and D2.
Most recently, Asnani turned to his own lobbyist, Gibson McKay, to help Rivero introduce HB2149, which would remove the definition of concentrates from state statutes, when DeMenna failed to make headway on the bill following a vote by the ADA board.
DeMenna maintains he was implementing his own strategy and that Asnani (amateurishly) jumped the gun with sloppy legislation.
But the DeMennas' strategy might not have been what the industry needed, said Mikel Weisser, director of Arizona NORML.
"I understand the DeMennas are top-dog lobbyists with decades of reputation," he said. "But I'm pretty clear they had too much of an adversarial approach for the cannabis issue."
The cannabis movement has been led by grassroots activism, Weisser explained, not top-down decisions.
Either way, the DeMennas made clear they were not willing to work with the ADA while Asnani was on the board, and ADA President Steve White has chosen to focus on finding new representation rather than mire himself in the spat.
Weisser said there currently aren't any other efforts for a 2020 adult-use cannabis initiative. Safer Arizona has all but dissolved and Arizonans for Mindful Regulation (who were happy to hear about DeMenna's departure) aren't "prepared to do anything politically at this time."
Any chance for an adult-use cannabis initiative rests in the ADA's choice of a new lobbying firm and someone to lead the initiative, a process that has likely been set back by the DeMennas' resignation, Weisser said.