Money matters as voters to decide on marijuana legaliation in Arizona
PHOENIX -- Foes of legalized recreational marijuana are building up a war chest in an apparent bid to kill Proposition 205 with a last-minute barrage of media.
New reports filed with the secretary of state's office shows that Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy has so far collected slightly more than $2 million.
That still leaves the group short of the nearly $3.2 million reported by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.
But the pro-205 forces already have burned through more than $3 million of that, much of that to get the measure on the ballot in the first place. The latest report shows that organization has less than $170,000 on hand.
By contrast, the campaign to kill the measure reported it has close to $1.4 million in the bank.
That cash differential could prove crucial.
Various polls have come up with conflicting results.
One from July had the measure failing with 52 percent of those questioned opposed. Another one released last month showed the initiative with 50 percent support.
But the tide could be on the side of initiative foes, and not just because of the financial edge.
Pollster Earl de Berge said that, generally speaking, when people are undecided or confused, they tend to vote "no' on ballot measures.
And pollster Michael O'Neil, who did not conduct either survey, said that even if proponents really do have a 10-point lead, that's not good news at this point in the election cycle. He said that's probably a high point and it's highly unlikely that number will improve between now and the election.
"I disagree with that,' responded Barrett Marson, spokesman for the legalization campaign. He said proponents are conducting a "vigorous' campaign.
He conceded the anti-205 campaign has more cash on hand. But he said much of that is due to a $500,000 donation from Chandler-based Insys Corp., "a company that wants to sell synthetic marijuana and opposes legalization for business reasons.'
Anti-205 spokesman Adam Deguire said his group is using its funding for television advertising in hopes of convincing voters that this is different than the law they narrowly approved in 2010.
"This isn't necessarily a fight about marijuana,' he said.
"No one's arguing here whether marijuana has medicinal purposes,' Deguire continued. "We're arguing whether it should be legalized recreationally.'
And he said there are things in Proposition 205 that even voters who support legalized marijuana might not want.
That 2010 ballot measure that barely squeaked by allows individuals with certain medical conditions, a doctor's recommendation and a state-issued ID card to obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces every two weeks from a state-licensed dispensary.
Proposition 205 would allow any adult to have up to an ounce at a time, purchased through an expanded retail dispensary system but with a 15 percent tax added on. The measure also would spell out certain rights of marijuana users as to employment and child custody cases.
Driving while impaired on marijuana would remain illegal.
But unlike alcohol, where a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 is presumption of impairment, there is no such standard in Proposition 205. That would require prosecutors to prove in each case that the motorist was impaired.
Proponents have spent much of their resources to date on their claims that the revenues from the tax would benefit education. Foes counter that similar promises were made in Colorado voters but that the funds have not materialized.
But the prime message of the anti-205 forces has been that making marijuana more available to adults will lead to greater accessibility and use by minors.
They also point out that the Arizona law specifically allows the sale of marijuana-laced candy bars, lollipops and other edibles that might be attractive to children.
Such items were legal in Colorado until lawmakers there banned their sale. But that is not an option here as the Arizona Constitution specifically prohibits state legislators from tinkering with anything approved by voters unless it "furthers the purpose' of the underlying measure.
The task of each side between now and when people vote is to make their case. But time is running out: Early ballots go out on Oct. 12.
And cash is important, as only some of that last-minute convincing can be done for minimal cost with things like press conferences and debates.
Marson acknowledged the smaller war chest.
"Obviously we had to pay to get the initiative onto the ballot to begin with,' he said. But Marson said fundraising continues and he is confident more money will be coming in.
More than $1 million has come from the national Marijuana Policy Project and its separate foundation. But most of the rest has been in the form of five- and six-digit donations from the operators of existing dispensaries, people who will get first crack at the limited number of retail outlets that the initiative will allow, a point that Deguire uses to counter Marson's comments about the Insys donation.