MPP director threatens Arizona cannabis dispensaries over legalization rift

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 [email protected]

28 comments on “MPP director threatens Arizona cannabis dispensaries over legalization rift
  1. Nate on

    Jeez… talk about a much-needed peace pipe session.

    It sounds like Berman might want to reconsider her actions; she’s sounding much more like a profiteer and much less like a cannabis advocate.

    Reply
  2. Mark Fox on

    Here in Alaska….bullying of those with different opinions also happened…including Senators..seems to me support and leadership is great, but MPP should remember that these are our states, not theirs !!

    Reply
  3. Seth Tyrssen on

    Guys, this is nuts — it’s supercapitalist greed, egotistical head-butting, and nothing more. There’s room for everyone, and for many approaches. Just remember the old Mafia adage, “DON’T GET GREEDY!” and you’ll be okay. Rather than spend thousands to damage someone else’s efforts, send it to me, and the Temple of Ankh’n’Abis/Church of the Sacred herb will put it to much better use.

    Reply
  4. Demitri Downing on

    This approach to spending other peoples money on a personal vendetta rather than campaigning should go over real well with his fund raisers. When is the last time a non-profit engaged in these tactics? NCIA website is what again?

    Reply
  5. M. Frost on

    It’s not a conflict of personal vendetta, but a conflict of human rights. Rob Kampia is fighting for the people not buisness, he should be commended and supported by all those who believe in freedom. He is protecting the well being and livelihood of all Americans. Support the man who fights for human rights!

    Reply
  6. Bud Green on

    Behind the bluster, one has to wonder at the wisdom of jumping ship just to introduce a “legalization” proposal that is lacking in several aspects, including personal cultivation. When pollsters write cannabis laws instead of lawyers, the resulting mish-mash pleases no one. If you can’t stick to core principles, then maybe the best course is acknowledge that Arizona isn’t ready to legalize.

    There is analogous behavior in California as competing camps proffer their own visions of “legalization,” none of them (yet) having learned much from mistakes made in Colorado and Washington. It’s not just about what’s winnable, and it’s not just about flying the 420 freedom flag while tuning out the valid concerns of voters. Berman is correct in pointing out that mounting competing measures would be counterproductive, yet she is the one who jumped ship to start the competition in earnest. I’d be upset, too, to put it mildly.

    Reply
  7. spkavyo on

    I don’t like the idea of a dispute among staff at one of the largest marijuana advocacy organizations is trading threats of picketing and legal action against each other. It may be time for the board to clean house.

    Reply
  8. Lyle Courtsal on

    The women here wouldn’t listen to reason either. Capping the supply is so stupid when demand is so high nationally. Amerikkkans are irrational idiots. And of course everyone forgets about the 1,000,000 people still in jail. I hate stupid emotionalized fascist idiots. They believe uncritically the bogus corporate research. Lyle Courtsal http://www.3mpub.com

    Reply
  9. merrit on

    some want to grow their own others don’t want that substantial bother and choose dispensary purchase. limiting the number of dispensaries makes sense as does zoning requirements for them and industrial cultivation establishments..

    Reply
  10. The Fonz on

    The industry deserves better than this from the MPP leadership. The stakes are too high for this type of scuttle. Even more unfortunate, a quick Google search on “Rob Kampia scandal” turns up far worse.

    Reply
  11. les on

    We are dealing with a similar situation here in maine. We have a local organization heading up our legalization efforts and mpp is here also trying for an initiative. Mpp should focus on federal legalization and stay out of our business. They don’t live here, they aren’t from here, and they plan on living here. What they plan on doing is getting it passed so their friends with deep pockets can come in and take over. So it’s not surprising they are threatening people.

    Reply
  12. George on

    Not sure why everyone is assuming Kampia is using funds from the organization to spearhead the boycott. All he said in his email was that he “budgeted” money to do so. He never specified where it’s coming from (and he can certainly afford $10,000 on his own). Instead of using facts, the author interviews a lawyer with financial ties to NORML (MPP’s rival) who basically suggests MPP is committing campaign finance fraud without a shred of proof outside of conjecture.

    The only “attack” here is by the author on MPP. This article reeks of bias. Completely irresponsible reporting.

    Reply
  13. Ryan Agnew on

    Howdy George,

    I didn’t realize I had financial ties to NORML. Quick, somebody tell Keith to cut me a check!

    And I didn’t say campaign finance fraud. I said tortious interference.

    Reply
  14. pam on

    Wowzers. No matter what disagreement there is, threatening the lively hood of ones business should be restricted to law enforcement.
    Kampia has had social etiquette issues before, as have a lot of pot activists but, this is adding to the accusations of him conducting sexual harassment in the workplace.
    Mason Tvert, please pass the peace pipe and ask Rob to resign.

    Reply
  15. Coliman on

    These comments are amazing! Has anyone taken the time to research any facts on either side before commenting or are you taking using this article to educate yourself on the matter for the first time. I happen to know these people personally and MPP is becoming an uncontrollable organization that wants to smash anyone that disagrees with the way they think policies should be made. Bullies really. They started with good intentions and are slowly becoming big brother. Isn’t that what we are all against in the first place.
    These are the facts. MPP wants you to think they have it all figured out but they are proposing things that WILL NEVER pass here in Arizona. Do they care, not really, profit comes either way. Berman is doing nothing more than rethinking what will ACTUALLY have a chance to change things in this state; after all Arizona is still stuck in the dark ages. First step is change, then you expand. You can’t go all in with a place where only those opposed to everything vote.
    And to target a business in any way shape or form because your feelings are hurt, come on. What are we five years old. This man will ruin everything that the MPP and the good people of Arizona has done so far.
    Let’s stop and think. Let’s work on a plan that will eventually pass and not just leave it up to people who put the work Marijuana in their name just to gain your trust.
    I have been on this band wagon for a long time now and believe deeply in this movement. Many of us have waited a long time for this and some of us thought we would never see it in our lifetime but here it comes. Stop with the threats and complaining and lets make this happen. Get involved, vote, speak your mind. Bickering gets us no closer and Kampia should be fired instantly for such immature remarks.
    I personally side with Berman because I know the whole story and she is someone that truely devotes her life to making others better. She is for the vets, for the sick, for all those that benefit. She is in no way making things harder or trying to limit anyone from doing anything. Sometimes the best things happen after making the right moves. No one here seems to be helping the movement; if you are my appreciation is endless. Give it time and trust your local people that are here for you; don’t trust big money running around the country speaking for everyone as if we have no voice.

    Reply
  16. Patrick Monk.RN. Hospice Case Manager. Society of Cannabis Clinicians on

    Kampia is pig and one of the most unprincipled and venal of the so called ‘leaders’ of the cannanbis reform movement.

    Reply
  17. Marilyn on

    Shame, shame, shame on Giving Tree and Gina Berman. Yes, your investment should be protected, but not believing that you can compete on a wider scale is short-sighted. The initiative needs MPP’s support and cash. I’m sure that Bill Montgomery will be laughing through 2016. Fighting for a few patients to grow and not to engage in anti-trust by limiting legitimate business opportunities is simply ignorant.

    Rob probably shouldn’t have threatened you, but just done it and let the patients decide whether they wanted to support you. However, he’s passionate about the industry and is a helluva fundraiser.

    Reply
  18. James on

    Colliman,

    All I can say to you is BS. Gina Berman is not worried about gradual change; she is concerned about protecting her turf and the tens of thousands of dollars that she and Lilach Power have spent building their two dispensaries. This isn’t about the patients and if you think it is, I have another strain to recommend to you.

    I understand that they’ve now gotten Steve White (an attorney here who owns two dispensaries here under the name of his brother) and has been accused of advising his clients to engage in money laundering. They have a history of trying to squash their competitors and that’s what this is all about. Love or hate MPP, their mission is to expand legalization, individual interests be damned!

    These dispensary owners know that their proposal can’t and won’t pass because they’ll never get the vast number of patients – remember them? to vote if they don’t have SOME type of provision to permit home grows, no matter how small.

    They know their proposal will never pass while it’s solely being funded by dispensary owners.

    Securing the tens of thousands of VALID signatures by professional groups will cost almost a quarter of a million dollars. How is this initiative going to fund that effort by soliciting $1,000 from 98 dispensary owners (if all give)….They won’t, which is what they want.

    Why does anyone think dispensary owners care about bringing on additional “competition” from the rec. market when they can keep prices artificially high as long as they maintain control.

    This is really pitiful. Love or hate MPP, they’ve had success with passing legislation and know how to do it. You don’t accept the position as Director of the Initiative and then because you don’t get your way, take your marbles and blindside the organization by launching your own initiative, that has NO, NONE, NADA possibility of passing.

    I’m sure MATFORCE (the anti-MMJ group) thinks this is just hilarious. If I were a patient, I would certainly be boycotting Giving Tree and Harvest of Tempe with or without MPP’s money. Their owners are singlehandedly ensuring that legalization in 2016 is nothing but a dream! SHAME, SHAME, SHAME!

    Reply
  19. M Max on

    I just wish people had a better nature, perhaps not be Mr. Roger’s, but at least act like he is in the room when you are in the spotlight… Nate said it, they all need a good peace session.

    Reply
  20. Demitri Downing on

    You should all use your real name and email! I am a paid lobbyist in the Arizona market. Only a group with the intellectual arrogance generated out of DC could come up with a policy they try to defend as good when it is in reality absurd.
    Here are the facts in 2010 the MPP drafted then by the luck of the irish created a regulatory structure in Arizona to grow and sell a commodity. Thousands of Arizona businessmen relied on this system and invested their time, treasure and reputation to make this system work. Only this last year have they turned the corner and are still paying off loan shark like debt! Now, the same organization wants to create a new regulatory structure that regulates this SAME commodity? That is insane, how would alcohol license owners react, lawyers if they had to take a new bar, etc etc….. Please someone answer me how this is nothing but poor planning and lack of ability to adjust to a reality that the MPP created? Here is the fact, the Arizona industry is well organized and not going away. The MPP can either fight the people it asked to develop this system that is a national model for compliance, taxing, and regulating, or do as they should listen to them, join and take credit for their success.

    Reply
  21. Bud Green on

    No law is perfect, Dmitri, as you have observed yourself. http://tucson.com/news/local/tucson-pot-rules-limit-garden-sizes-so-revenue-and-jobs/article_5b76d4f4-47a0-521b-8e63-3c82b702ba65.html

    What is true is that an “industry” of sorts exists in every MMJ state, but the level of state and local regulations varies wildly. By your own statements, dispensary owners and cultivators have vested financial interests in the current medical cannabis system, and it’s fair to credit and/or blame MPP for its role in creating that system. You can’t do both in a rant, however, and then claim the moral high ground.

    Dispensary owners in well-regulated states may have legitimate concerns about being thrown under the bus when adult-use legalization comes around, and they’re well within their rights to express them. However, dispensaries cannot claim to speak for all cannabis users and growers, nor their desires to access cannabis outside the dispensary industry. True legalization should raise all boats, including small-scale personal cultivation rights. Arguing otherwise makes the existing industry players look selfish at best, and greedy or monopolistic at worst.

    Reply
  22. Demitri downing on

    Bud green, have courage use your real name stand behind your thoughts! Some are legit, facts and evidence will always triumph over hidden agendas and spin. There is no hidden agenda behind this, Mpp has said it would never run a medicinal campaign again, that being said Mpp should respect those who get out in front of this issue and take risks of federal prosecution just like rob has suffered himself. These are courageous pioneers like him not an enemy and as more states go medicinal thru the legislature the Mpp better learn to work with these entities as it seeks to find it’s role in ever evolving marijauna politics. Also, industry in Arizona supports gyo, if there is a dispensary that doesn’t I say call them out! It took a little education but we got them there, all good there.

    Reply

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