Two’s a Crowd

Only one group can survive the legalization initiative process if Arizona really wants legal weed

A group made up of medical marijuana dispensary stakeholders surprised the Marijuana Policy Project when they came out of the closet with a different ballot measure proposal to legalize recreational pot next year.

Up until about two weeks ago, the official plan A was an initiative by the Washington-based group that's been in the works for months. But MPP can't seem to make all of its Arizona allies happy, and ended up pushing its former campaign chairwoman Gina Berman to abandon the group and start her own.

This plan B group, Arizonans for Responsible Legalization, alleges MPP haven't ompromised to the requests of dispensaries. Some of the disagreements include the number of dispensaries allowed to operate and the licensing structure.

Berman, who is also the medical director of the Phoenix-area Giving Tree Wellness Center dispensary, said in a very short statement, after filing paperwork with the Secretary of State's Office, that the newly established group would unveil the measure's language in the next few weeks, and that they were committed to ensure "the greatest benefit to taxpayers and boosting education funding."

Safer Arizona, which provided input in MPP's initiative draft process, knew about the group's plan for some time, according to Mikel Weisser, Safer's political director. "If they didn't get what they wanted, something was going to blow up," he says. "Because MPP wasn't dealing with their own investors properly, they are currently facing losing them."

Rob Kampia, MPP co-founder and executive director, sent out an email on April 1 (after another arose where he threatened Berman to boycott her dispensary), saying Berman's allegations came out of left field. He summarized parts of the MPP measure, which all seem to benefit dispensaries. He said MPP and Berman had agreed on these right before plan B emerged.

One: Only medical marijuana dispensary registration certificate holders would be granted unlimited pot cultivation licenses. And two: Industry newcomers not only would be at the bottom of the list for licensing, but they'd also only qualify for "the smallest license available."

Also, "The number of licenses for these businesses would not be limited by the initiative, but would be subject to limitations imposed by rules and ordinances established by cities, towns, and counties. There would be no limit on who can apply for any of these licenses, but medical marijuana dispensary registration certificate holders would be preferred over other applicants," he said.

He wraps it up saying MPP is sticking to that agreement, but that if the Responsible Legalization folks move forward with this surprise initiative, MPP will scratch that and file a measure that has a "free-market approach."

MPP's initiative is currently in the hands of the Legislative Counsel's office. Once the counsel gives them feedback, they'll submit the final initiative to the Secretary of State and commence the signature gathering process.

Kampia mentioned cultivation rights in the email, as well. Allegedly, a person would have the right to grow six plants at his or her home. This is similar to the language in a previous draft, but it was scratched, creating chaos with Safer Arizona and other advocates.

"Respect the will of the actual consumers you claim to be serving, involve the community waiting to be your army, be our champion," Weisser said in a statement after plan B initiative was announced. Weisser says Safer has its own initiative, and that they've also consider their own plans A through G in case things with MPP and others fall through. "MPP has consistently refused to pay enough attention to our concern (home cultivation), and our group started scrambling when MPP cut the grow rights," he says.

MPP Arizona Political Director Carlos Alfaro was calm when he said MPP, the dispensaries and activists are discussing a middle ground.

"Be sure that none of this really has disrupted any of our plans or any operations," he says. "There are so many drafts of this initiative, trying to get all of these people and their interests involved. Once we have that all cleared up, we hope to have an initiative that compromises those interests."

Weisser says that someone's got to give in this heated pot battle. There cannot be two initiatives gathering signatures and landing on the ballot. It might, once again, cheat Arizona out of legal pot.

"I believe that MPP and the plan B are fighting for the same donor stream, only one is going to survive," he says. "The person who's supposed to be raising money for you just jumped on the other team. They are going to have to come up with a resolution."