Large-Scale Dispensaries Are Still the Main Backers of Arizona's Pot Initiative | Herban Planet

Ali Swenson
Large-scale cannabis dispensary corporations including Harvest, CuraLeaf, and MedMen continue to provide the lion's share of funding for the initiative to legalize cannabis in Arizona in 2020, campaign filings show.

A campaign finance report filed on October 12 shows the Smart and Safe Arizona Act raised over $300,000 in the third quarter of 2019, almost entirely from business contributions.

That's about half of what the initiative earned in its last filing, but it still brings the measure's total earnings to a sizable $1.2 million, a year before it is likely to appear on the ballot.

Nearly half the campaign's total funding has come from Harvest Enterprises, Inc., a dispensary retailer with 10 locations across Arizona and a growing presence in at least eight other states across the U.S.

If it passes next year, the Smart and Safe Arizona Act would legalize cannabis for all adults ages 21 and older. It has support from major players in Arizona's marijuana industry, including the Arizona Dispensaries Association and the Marijuana Industry Trade Association of Arizona. But it has also drawn criticism from those who say it prioritizes current dispensary owners and multibillion-dollar corporations over patients and small business owners who want to break into a booming industry.

Members of a new group, the Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, are concerned the measure would result in big businesses monopolizing the industry, so they're writing their own competing proposal.

“The initiative is really the big companies’ initiative,” AZCCC board member Mason Cave said in an interview last month. “I’m for smarter, wiser legislation over those guys’ pockets.”

The filings show the Smart and Safe Arizona Act is overwhelmingly funded by dispensaries with sprawling footprints across the state. In the third quarter of 2019, Harvest invested an additional $167,500 in the initiative, bringing its total donations to over $500,000. CuraLeaf, which has eight dispensaries across Arizona, and MedMen, which has three, have also been primary backers, with $400,000 and $200,000 in total contributions, respectively.

Stacy Pearson, a senior vice president at Strategies 360 and a spokesperson for the initiative, said Harvest has contributed an additional $200,000, and CuraLeaf has contributed an additional $100,000 since the third-quarter cutoff date.

The measure also received money from other dispensary companies in Arizona, the Arizona Dispensaries Association, and a small number of individual donors, who contributed about $900.

Meanwhile, organizers are shelling out large sums of campaign cash for strategy and signature-collecting efforts. In total, they've spent more than $400,000 on consulting groups and PR firms. They've also paid $250,000 to the firm Petition Partners, which is heading up its signature-gathering effort. At the end of its third quarter, the initiative had about $115,000 in cash to spare.

Pearson said even though most of the funding has come in from multistate businesses, the initiative has focused on the needs and interests of Arizona residents.

"As part of the drafting process, we met with more than 300 local stakeholders," she said. "We didn't take legislation that worked in California and try to fit it into an Arizona scenario. We started from scratch in Arizona."

If the measure can amass 237,645 valid voter signatures by July 2, 2020, it will appear on the 2020 ballot.

No major group so far has emerged to oppose the legalization of adult-use cannabis in Arizona for 2020. The prohibitionists behind Arizonans For Responsible Drug Policy, a group that raised over $6 million with help from Governor Doug Ducey to help defeat a 2016 legalization initiative, have not yet begun a new fundraising effort and did not respond to a call for comment.