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Sun, Jan. 26

Campaign to legalize marijuana gains momentum

PHOENIX – Proponents of recreational use of marijuana in Arizona already have raised more than $2.2 million in their bid to get voter approval in November.

New campaign finance reports Friday show the lion’s share of the cash coming from the Marijuana Policy Project. That national group has been at the forefront of efforts to loosen laws on a state-by-state basis.

It has so far kicked in nearly $610,000 directly and another $271,150 from its separate foundation.

And virtually all of the rest comes from companies already in the marijuana business in Arizona who stand to benefit if the measure is approved.

The anti-initiative campaign, operating as Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, reported contributions of close to $690,000.

That effort is being fueled largely by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which has so far kicked in $120,000, mostly in outright cash with about $10,000 of food and beverages for fundraising.

The campaign is shaping up to be far more expensive than the one in 2010 that first legalized marijuana for medical purposes.

That measure squeaked by with less than $800,000 in support, with close to $469,000 from the Marijuana Policy Project.

Foes managed to collect less than $20,000.

Seth Leibsohn, who is chairing the anti-initiative campaign, said that’s not going to happen this time.

“We are not repeating what happened in 2010 where there was no real organized opposition outside of literally maybe a handful of people,” he said.

Leibsohn won’t say how much his group hopes to raise. But he insisted it will be enough.

“We will not be underfunded for a very strong educational campaign that will give as good as it gets and give the Arizona voters all the intelligence they need to make an informed decision,’’ Leibsohn said.

Recreational marijuana use is legal in four states and the District of Columbia. And there are ballot measures pending in other states, such as California.

But Leibsohn said he thinks that trend may be changing, citing the defeat of a recreational marijuana program in Ohio last year.

What happened there, however, may be an anomaly: At least part of the opposition was due to concerns that measure would have created a monopoly for growing and distributing the drug.

That same argument already is coming up in Arizona.

The measure would limit the number of marijuana dispensaries initially to about 150, a figure based on a percentage of the number of liquor stores in Arizona. More to the point, the operators of the state’s existing 99 medical marijuana dispensaries would have first claim on those licenses.

That makes it unsurprising that, aside from the Marijuana Policy Project, the major donors to the campaign are all the owners of existing medical marijuana shops.

That’s led by Arizona Grassroots Dispensary in Mayer with a $135,000 donation.

The Monarch Wellness Center in Scottsdale which kicked in $97,500. There is an $85,000 from Urban Greenhouse Dispensary in Phoenix and $80,000 donations each from The Holistic Center, and from Sixth Street Enterprises which operates Nature’s AZ Dispensary.

Other than the state chamber, on the anti-legalization side the major contributor was Randy Kendrick, wife of Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick who kicked in $100,000.

The campaign also reports major funding from several other businesses including Empire Southwest, Microchip Technologies and Robson Communities.

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