By 2017, Arizonans will be free to possess, use and even grow marijuana, regardless of any medical condition, if the group that helped pass the state’s 2010 medical marijuana initiative is successful again.
The Marijuana Policy Project today announced a plan to push full-legalization initiatives in ten states over the next two election cycles, including Arizona in 2016. The Washington D.C.-based action group has been involved in voter initiatives that created medical marijuana programs in several states and full legalization in Washington and Colorado.
Recent polling consistently shows greater support for loosening marijuana laws across the United States. The Marijuana Policy Project cites a Public Policy Polling survey from January showing a majority of Arizona voters support a system that regulates and taxes marijuana like alcohol.
Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the most important component for his group’s success in 2016 will be voter education.
“The federal government has had a decades-long head start in the campaign to keep marijuana illegal,” Tvert said.
And voter education costs money, Tvert said.
State campaign finance records show the Marijuana Policy Project poured almost $500,000 into the campaign to pass Arizona’s medical marijuana initiative in 2010. The pro-medical marijuana campaign received and spent a total of about $800,000.
Opponents raised and spent less than $30,000.
The 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act passed with just 4,340 votes – a margin of about 0.25%.
Tvert said he couldn’t predict how much money the group will inject into the campaign in 2016. Polling and needs of campaigns in other states will be a consideration, he said.
The Marijuana Policy Project is comprised of tax-exempt 501c(3) and 501c(4) groups that can take contributions anonymously, as well as an independent Political Action Committee that’s required to report contributions. Only about $80,000 was contributed to the political action committee during the 2011-2012 campaign cycle, and the group’s website promises that any contributions made to the tax-exempt 501c organizations will be kept private..
Tvert said the group’s overall budget is around two million dollars annually.
The Marijuana Policy Project’s announcement comes on the eve of a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the conflicts between state and federal marijuana laws planned Wednesday.
The hearing was scheduled just days after the United States Justice Department said the scope of enforcement of federal drug laws by federal law enforcement agencies would be contracted to allow state programs like those in Colorado and Washington to operate without federal interference.
Tvert said he expects much of the hearing to focus on banking and tax issues.