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Veterans group ends recall drive against Yee

Rep. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix (Photo by Rebekah Zemansky/Cronkite News Service)

Rep. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix (Photo by Rebekah Zemansky/Cronkite News Service)

A pro-medical marijuana veterans group said they’ve been “double-crossed” by Sen. Kimberly Yee after the Phoenix Republican claimed she made no promise to support legislation the veterans desired.

The Arizona Veterans Assistance Committee filed paperwork Thursday morning to terminate a recall petition against Yee, who they blamed for blocking legislation in the 2014 regular session that may have provided funding for a study of medical marijuana’s impact on veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Spokesman Daron Babin said the veterans committee withdrew the recall petition with an understanding that they’d come to terms with Yee, who in exchange would support legislation to help fund the study.

But Yee and her attorney, Mike Liburdi, flatly denied that there was a deal in place, and suggested in a statement that such “special interest legislation” could compromise the integrity of Yee’s office.

The veterans stated that withdrawing the petition was a sign of good faith following negotiations with Yee and Liburdi, who they claimed had begun to build a coalition to support legislation in 2015 that would fund a University of Arizona study of medical marijuana’s effect on veterans suffering from treatment-resistant PTSD.

In a statement, the veterans included the following quote from Liburdi, who they say stated, “We must move forward together with crafting legislation that benefits veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress and funds research, and then getting it passed as quickly as possible.”

Yet Yee and Liburdi said no such agreement had been reached. And Liburdi said the veterans had “cherry-picked” various statements he made during negotiations to make it appear there was a deal.

“All I can tell you is the statements are totally out of context,” Liburdi said. “The conclusions they’re drawing are wrong.”

In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Yee called the veterans’ tactics “typical of the misrepresentations and distortions that NORML has utilized in an attempt to intimidate me and influence legislation.”

The veterans’ committee is backed by NORML, a national organization with chapters in Arizona that seeks to legalize marijuana use.

Babin said veterans had “no reason to believe that they would not act in good faith,” and that he was offended that Liburdi and Yee would make false claims about their negotiations. He claimed Yee shut out the group during the 2014 regular session, when they grew angry with her refusal to hold a vote in her Senate Education committee on a bill to provide the University of Arizona with some funding for its medical marijuana research. Until the recall petition was filed, Yee never responded to the committee’s calls or concerns, Babin said.

Liburdi has said the veterans committee has since met face-to-face with Yee, a claim Babin called “absolutely, 100 percent untrue.”

“All we’ve ever wanted to do was have a conversation with our elected officials, and there’s been a blockade in Sen. Yee’s office from the beginning,” Babin said.

The veterans committee’s negotiations with Liburdi have been mired in controversy.  Two separate chairmen of the committee have stepped down during negotiations, and both cited “irreconcilable differences” with other veterans in the group when leaving the post.

With the recall over, Babin said the veterans committee will now turn its attention to the general election in hopes of supporting a candidate who can defeat Yee this fall.

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