In an attempt to prevent the legalization of marijuana in Arizona, a multi-agency drug war task force has donated tens of thousands of dollars collected from the civil asset forfeiture program to ensure a statewide cannabis industry never sees the light of day.
A recent investigative report from the Phoenix New Times indicates that Partners Against Narcotics Trafficking (PANT), a law enforcement organization charged with bringing the heat down on drug offenders, recently wrote a check for $50,000 to MATFORCE, a group dedicated to combating substance abuse. This joining of prohibitionary forces, so to speak, apparently took place shortly after the Marijuana Policy Project announced it was coming to Arizona with guns blazing to legalize weed for recreational purposes in 2016.
And It appears that additional public funding will likely be used to fight the prospect of a fully legal cannabis trade in the state. Earlier last week, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich released a decision in regards to a question posed by Yavapai County Attorney Shelia Polk, which essentially asked whether public finances could be used to protest marijuana.
In his opinion, Brnovich asserted that this practice was acceptable as long as there remains a balance that does not cross the statewide ban against using public resources for campaign purposes. In short, public dollars can be spent to combat ballot measures, including those aimed at legalizing marijuana, as long as it is done in a manner that “educates” rather than persuade.
“To the extent you use public resources to communicate,” Brnovich wrote, “your efforts may lawfully continue… so long as they do not unambiguously urge the electorate to cast a vote for or against the measure.”
Obviously, Brnovich’s decision has created some animosity with the state’s marijuana activists, like Carlos Alfaro with Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, who argues that money generated from those who pay state and local taxes should not be utilized by public officials to fund propaganda tactics. The consensus among pot supporters is that since they must collect independent campaign finances to run a ballot initiative, win or lose, it is unfair and unreasonable for community servants to be permitted to spend the constituent’s tax dollars to oppose the democratic process.
Legal experts, like attorney Angela Poliquin, believe that allowing the use of public resources to influence voter response spawns “political mischief,” a practice that is not only wrong, but also a detriment to the concept of democracy. In other words, governments should not be permitted to grease the wheels of organizations in an effort to control the opinion of the citizens for which they serve.
Nevertheless, Yavapai County has been dipping into its RICO fund, which is pooled from various law enforcement agencies from the revenue they have obtained through the civil asset forfeiture program. And since Arizona law allows the use of anti-racketeering funds to be used for education that warns against the perils of substance abuse, officials can technically use this money to influence the outcome of a ballot measure aimed at legalizing marijuana under the guise of a public service announcement.
The New Times article revealed that Polk, who was responsible for inquiring about the use of public funds to campaign against pot, is a leading board member for both PANT and MATFORCE. Polk is the culprit behind the $50,000 donation that supposedly went towards educating the public on the alleged dangers of marijuana. Although she did not elaborate on the specific disbursement of these funds, she claims there are no additional plans to utilize her county budget to oppose marijuana legalization for the next couple of years.
The report goes on to point out that MATFORCE is infamous for utilizing funds derived from civil asset forfeiture proceeds to pay for “educational programs,” which are mostly comprised of scare tactics and decades old reefer madness-like swill. There is also speculation that at least a portion of the $50,000 contribution went towards booking anti-pot activist Kevin Sabet at the organization’s annual convention in 2014.
Ultimately, anti-legalization groups should be held to the same financial trials and tribulations as everyone else when pushing an agenda, and tax dollars should be off-limits to those who either support or oppose a particular voter initiative. After all, citizens should not be paying the government to subliminally manipulate them into buying the cow when all they really want is the grass.