By John Schroyer
The Marijuana Policy Project’s executive director is threatening to spend thousands of dollars to disrupt a pair of Arizona dispensaries, saying a key staffer of the businesses who also headed up MPP’s campaign to legalize recreational cannabis in the state will “pay a price” if she spearheads a competing measure.
The friction leaves the future of rec cannabis in Arizona up in the air, pitting a key cannabis lobbying organization against a dispensary executive and many of her peers in the state’s MMJ industry who have a different vision of legalization.
The dispute stems from disagreements between MPP and reportedly several dozen Arizona medical marijuana dispensaries over language in a proposed ballot measure for 2016 that would legalize recreational cannabis.
After negotiations between the two sides apparently fell apart last week, Gina Berman – who at the time served as chairwoman of MPP’s Arizona campaign and is the medical director of The Giving Tree Wellness Center dispensaries – filed paperwork with the Arizona Secretary of State’s office on Friday to create a new campaign committee called Arizonans for Responsible Legalization (ARL).
Berman is planning a separate measure that would essentially compete with the one MPP is crafting, and filing with the secretary of state was her first official act in that vein.
In retaliation, MPP head Rob Kampia (pictured) penned a furious email to Berman on Sunday.
“If you file a competing initiative with the Secretary of State anyway, we will specifically launch a series of actions to harm your business,” Kampia wrote in the email, which was obtained by Marijuana Business Daily.
“I’m already budgeting $10,000 (as of Friday) to pay people for 1,000 hours of time to distribute literature outside of your front door, and the literature will not portray you in a kind way. We will not target any other dispensaries; we will only target you,” Kampia wrote.
The email also indicated that MPP would replace Berman this week as head of its Arizona campaign, which Kampia confirmed was done on Tuesday.
There were at least two central differences that brought the situation to a head.
While MPP wants either a large or unlimited number of recreational shop licenses allowed in the ballot measure language, Berman and ARL supporters want a cap on the number of licenses. And while MPP wants a ballot measure that would allow for any resident to cultivate recreational marijuana at home, Berman contended in an email response to Kampia that such “dramatic deregulation” isn’t politically feasible.
On Tuesday, Kampia defended his position to Marijuana Business Daily, saying that Berman’s move to spearhead a competing measure threatens to undercut the chances that either camp will be able to succeed in legalizing marijuana in the state next year.
“She’s threatening the freedom of literally thousands of Arizonans. If I can take out one business as a way of keeping lots of people out of prison, then by God, I’m going to do that,” Kampia said. “I felt really quite shocked when the chair of our committee blindsided us with this nonsense on Friday. She’s going to pay a price for that.”
Kampia further asserted that Berman lied in an email disseminated to Arizona dispensary owners and employees when she claimed that MPP had refused to negotiate on the terms of the ballot measure.
“(MPP) has steadfastly refused to agree to reasonable compromises,” Berman wrote in that email. “All language put forth by the MPP would ultimately jeopardize the investments you’ve made to make Arizona a responsible cannabis state.”
That statement is patently false, Kampia said.
“We actually compromised on by far the two biggest issues, plus a couple dozen other issues, and we only had five left, and we were waiting to hear back from them,” Kampia said.
Kampia said he was “waiting by the phone, and the next thing I see is that Gina’s in the news filing her own campaign committee” on Friday.
Berman did not respond to repeated requests for comment, but a spokesman shared a letter she wrote to Kampia on Tuesday. In the response, Berman said that if Kampia makes good on his threat to interfere with The Giving Tree’s business, then she and ARL may file a civil lawsuit against both him and MPP under tort law.
“If you carry through on these threats, it is very likely that both MPP as an organization and you as an individual will be liable for tortuously [sic] interfering with business expectancies,” Berman wrote to Kampia.
Berman would be well within her rights to file such a claim, said Seattle cannabis attorney Ryan Agnew. And, he suggested, Kampia could be jeopardizing his job as executive director.
“I would assume (MPP) would have at least one attorney…that would say, ‘Don’t you dare think about doing any of these things,'” Agnew said. “What they’re proposing if they follow through sounds more like tortious interference with a business relationship, and that is illegal. I think that if Rob took one step in that direction, MPP’s board lets him go and then they wash their hands of it.”
Agnew suggested a court judgment against Kampia – and MPP – could be far more costly than the $10,000 he threatened to spend against Berman.
Berman also wrote to Kampia that MPP, as a 501(c)4, would be prohibited under federal law from using financial resources “to pursue a personal vendetta,” and said she would report such actions to the Internal Revenue Service.
MPP board member James Slatic said on Tuesday that it is “certainly not our policy” to threaten businesses.
“That would be behavior that wouldn’t be sanctioned or authorized by the board, which ultimately employs the executive director,” Slatic said. “Our next board meeting is in April, in a few weeks, in Washington DC… I’ll be bringing this call to their attention.”
Another Arizona industry insider who requested anonymity said Kampia’s actions have damaged MPP’s reputation.
“It’s out there that MPP is trying to control every state, and if they don’t get their way, they’re willing to destroy people personally,” the person said.
As things stand, both MPP and ARL are in the process of finalizing language for their own respective legalization ballot measures. And that, said Agnew, is the “worst-case scenario.”
“Either they both fail to qualify (for the 2016 ballot) or they consume so much resources that should have been dedicated to one initiative, and Arizona doesn’t get to join the list of states that are taking the next step,” Agnew said.
John Schroyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org