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Sun, June 16

Employee uses government email to 'blow up' arguments of marijuana legalization proponents

PHOENIX -- The head of the state Department of Economic Security sent a message to all of his employees on a state-owned email list with a link to a story with arguments against Proposition 205.

In an email sent Sunday, Tim Jeffries forwarded a political argument by Seth Leibsohn who has been working against the campaign to legalize marijuana for recreational use. The subject line is: "Alcohol 'safer' than marijuana???????'

Leibsohn in the email that Jeffries forwarded, said it was his intent to "blow up' the arguments of marijuana legalization proponents. And Liebsohn attached an article he wrote for an online magazine with various claims about the lack of safety of the drug and saying that the pro-205 campaign was "very misleading, even dangerous, message, based on bad science and sophistic public deception.'

That attachment was also part of the email Jeffries sent to the entire DES staff.

An aide to Attorney General Mark Brnovich would not opine on whether what Jeffries did violates any laws.

Instead, Ryan Anderson cited a formal opinion Brnovich issued just this past year -- and specifically on the subject of the marijuana ballot measure -- where he said it is illegal to use "public resources' for the purpose of influencing the outcome of elections. And Brnovich said that includes ballot measures.

That inquiry begins with the question of whether "public resources' were used.

In that opinion, Brnovich said the definition is "quite broad.' It includes not just money, facilities, vehicles and computer hardware and software but also personnel, equipment "or any other thing of value.'

There was no expenditure of public monies in Jeffries sending out the email, apparently from home, albeit using his DES email account.

But the list of employees' email addresses is not public. And political consultants routinely pay to obtain mailing lists from organizations.

Anderson said it's an open question under Arizona law of whether a state-owned email list is a "thing of value.' But he said the mailing does raise some issues.

"At the very least, government officials and their employees should avoid any appearance of a possible inappropriate use of public resources,' Anderson said.

DES spokeswoman Tasya Peterson said Jeffries was "unavailable' at all on Wednesday to answer questions about the email. But Peterson said there is nothing wrong with what her boss did.

"Senior leadership regularly circulates articles and news stories regarding current events,' she said in a prepared statement. "The email sent by Director Jeffries was sent for purely informational purposes.'

She said the agency recently sent out a news article about Proposition 206 which, if approved by voters, would hike the state minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. Peterson said that is "of interest to our Division of Employment and Rehabilitation Services Division for employers and job seekers.'

But Peterson sidestepped repeated questions about the fact that what Jeffries sent out was not a news story about Proposition 205 but a self-published opinion piece by Leibsohn attacking the idea of legalizing marijuana. Nor would she respond to questions of whether Jeffries, in simply providing information on current topics, would also forward published pieces with a pro-205 spin to DES employees.

Jeffries is on record as opposing the ballot measure, having made a $500 contribution to the committee trying to kill it.

This isn't the first time that emails from Jeffries to his workers has raised questions.

Earlier this year he sent out messages to staffers about his trip to Lourdes and offering to take their written "special intentions' with him. But Paul Watkins, chief of the civil division of the attorney general's office, concluded no laws were broken because the messages were "private speech,' even though they were sent through the state email system.

What is different here is that the content of this message was not personal but political.

More to the point, the content clearly had a point of view about Proposition 205. And Brnovich, in that 2015 opinion, said the law defines "influencing the outcome of elections' -- the act for which public resources cannot be used -- include "supporting or opposing a ballot measure, question or proposition ... in any manner that is not impartial or neutral.'

Anderson said no decision has been made whether the AG's office will conduct an independent probe inot what Jeffries did.

"We don't police individual agency directors' emails or weigh in absent a specific complaint,' he said. And Barrett Marson, publicist for the pro-205 campaign, said there are no plans to file a formal complaint against Jeffries.

In any event, Anderson said, there is another option short of a formal inquiry.

"This appears to be a matter that could be addressed internally between Director Jeffries and his boss,' he said, meaning Gov. Doug Ducey.

But Ducey does not think the man he hired for the job did anything wrong.

"The director was simply sharing an article,' said gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato.

He said Ducey believes that electioneering using state resources "is completely unacceptable.' But Scarpinato said the content of this email does not fit that description.

In the attachment that Jeffries emailed out, Leibsohn said his goal was to to undermine the argument by proponents of Proposition 205 that the measure would regulate marijuana like alcohol.

"It is very misleading, even dangerous, message, based on bad science and sophistic public deception,' Leibsohn wrote.

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