Legalization’s Dirtiest Campaign—Arizona—Comes Down to the Wire

Arizona, state flag

Those hoping for a decisive victory Tuesday night for Arizona’s campaign to legalize marijuana may be in for an unexpected wait, with polls showing a split electorate, and the campaign even saying it could take days for the final result to be known.

It took several days for the vote tally to slowly tip toward passing medical marijuana in the state in 2010. Now, six years later, a razor-thin margin may mean close to a week before knowing for sure whether adults in the state will be able to smoke marijuana legally without a doctor’s recommendation.

“I don’t think we’ll know until Saturday, because it will be that close,” Barrett Marson, a spokesman for the campaign said on a podcast he co-hosts.

The most recent poll shows support for the ballot measure edging out opposition by just one percentage point.

The opposition reported Friday that they’ve spent $4.9 million—$4 million of which went toward media purchases in October alone—and that they had $740,000 left to spend. During the same period, the campaign to legalize marijuana only spent $1.5 million on TV ads.

The imbalance between those big figures reflects the state of the campaigns in Arizona, with the opposition getting huge infusions of cash, late in the cycle. Some of the donors have questionable interests in marijuana remaining illegal, like prison contractors and opioid manufacturers.

Another big-dollar donor to the opposition, Discount Tires, found itself promptly boycotted by marijuana legalization supporters.

One local newspaper went so far as to publish the name of everyone who gave more than $10,000 to the attempt to keep marijuana illegal, so that it’s readers could decide whether or not to patronize the businesses and interests of those involved in the effort.

The final weeks of the campaign also saw opposition leaders, like Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, on their heels after a few major revelations. First, that the budgets of the agency that prosecutes the bulk of marijuana crimes in Arizona would be hurt by the passage of the legalization, and second that the campaign has been downright lying in ads.

Reporting from the Arizona Republic uncovered the conflict, illustrating how a drug-prosecution-industrial-complex works.

Neither Montgomery’s office, nor the court-ordered drug testing and rehabilitation company, which have a financial stake in keeping marijuana illegal have not responded for requests for comment from High Times, for more than two weeks now. The opposition campaign also declined to comment.

But the Phoenix New Times went further, dissecting a rebuttal on the matter from Montgomery himself, showing how Montgomery side-steped questions about the very real monetary loss that would result at his agency, if marijuana arrests and prosecutions went away.

The issue of the opposition’s advertising truthfulness came as lawmakers from Colorado sent a formal letter to the campaign, telling them that they need to get their facts right.

“As members of the Colorado Legislature who played intimate roles in the budgeting and appropriation of marijuana tax revenues, we feel it is our duty to set the record straight so that voters in both states have accurate information about this subject,” the three lawmakers wrote.

Their main point: stop distorting the numbers when it comes to the way the tax on marijuana has been distributed to schools. The local opposition has cherry-picked stats, but those Colorado lawmakers who have seen it up close say the nearly $140 million injected into public schools over the past two years has been good for the state, and is working even better than anticipated.

So far, the attempts to set the record straight on Colorado’s system has not caused the opposition campaign to stop using their misleading figures—not unexpected, considering misleading figures are the best they have.

The Yes on Proposition 205 campaign can still use help from volunteers, and they now have to plan for what to do in some not implausible scenarios Tuesday night. If all of the east coast states’ presidential results favor Hillary Clinton, she could be announced the winner of the election just minutes after 7 p.m. local time. And while the polling locations “close” at 7 p.m., they will let anyone waiting in line at that time to cast a ballot. So, if lines are long, there could be thousands of voters waiting even after the results of the presidential election are known.

For the campaign to legalize marijuana, convincing voters to stay in line and cast their ballots may mean a heavy social media campaign, aimed at reminding those people how important their ballot will be.

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