AZ Anti-pot nannies are skirting the law to scare voters, but it may not work

Crossposted from DemocraticDiva.com

Pew Marijuana

Per Howie Fischer of Capitol Media Services:

In a new formal opinion, [AZ Attorney General] Brnovich acknowledged there are laws prohibiting the use of public funds to influence the outcome of elections — a restriction he noted that applies even before a proposal has qualified for the ballot.

But Brnovich said no law prohibits public education campaigns — even ones that are not fair and balanced. He said even one-sided arguments are permitted “so long as they do not unambiguously urge the electorate to cast a vote for or against the measure.”

The opinion is a significant victory for Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk.

She is spearheading efforts to kill an initiative drive to allow the recreational use of marijuana. Polk has formed a political action committee to collect private donations to put out that message.

She said Brnovich’s opinion allows her to keep doing what she has been doing since before the initiative campaign was launched: Go out, on public time, and talk with voters about marijuana and making it legal.

“If I’m doing a presentation on marijuana’s harm, I will always get a question about legalization,” she said. “This says I can answer that question.”

The people behind the 2016 legalization initiative are considering litigation and if they do pursue that course I hope they succeed since, as AZ Republic’s EJ Montini put it, using your position as an elected official to crusade against a ballot initiative is an unjustifiable use and waste of taxpayer dollars.

That said, it’s not a big deal if they don’t and officials like Polk and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery are able to join the D.A.R.E chumps on the public stage to inveigh against legal weed. It’s not like they acquit themselves very well anymore. Anti-pot zealots come off exactly like Rick Santorum railing against gays or the dangers of premarital sex and, admit it, don’t you want Santorum to keep talking about those things publicly as much as possible? Sheila Polk admits that the question of legalization comes up every time she gives her anti-pot sermons so why not give her ample opportunities to spout puritanical scaremongering straight out of the 1936 Reefer Madness playbook, that can be easily rebutted with facts and cogent arguments from the legalization initiative’s proponents?

Pew Research provides insight as to why the hysteria and misinformation about pot that had worked so brilliantly to fool the public for many decades is failing now. Support for marijuana legalization has overtaken opposition in just the past few years and a solid majority of the country (69%) feels that alcohol (which we tried to prohibit once, with disastrous results) is more harmful to people than weed. Most significantly, the percentage of Americans who have tried pot is close to half, 49%. That’s important because it means that more people in this country than ever have personal experience (their own or ones close to them) with pot and a frame of reference to evaluate claims, positive or negative, about pot. Considering how the American experience with alcohol is far more commonplace (and more negatively perceived) than with marijuana, yet Americans have expressed practically no interest in revisiting banning drinking, it’s difficult to see the momentum going back toward the marijuana prohibitionists.

One response to “AZ Anti-pot nannies are skirting the law to scare voters, but it may not work

  1. AZ BlueMeanie

    Here is the AG Opinion 115-002 (2015) https://www.azag.gov/sgo-opinions/use-public-funds-influence-outcomes-elections.

    This opinion relies on an earlier AG Opinion 107-008 (2007) captioned “Use of Official Titles by Elected Officials in Connection with Political Advocacy.” https://www.azag.gov/sgo-opinions/I07-008.

    Oddly enough, Brnovich does not reference this earlier AG Opinion 100-020 (2000) captioned “Use of City or County Funds to Educate the Public on Ballot Measures,” which is also relevant. https://www.azag.gov/sgo-opinions/I00-020 (excerpt):

    Although the governing body cannot take formal positions on ballot measures, individual members of those governing bodies may express their views on public policy issues. As one court commented, “the effective discharge of an elected official’s duty would necessarily include the communication of one’s considered judgment of . . . [a] proposal to the community which he or she serves.” Smith v. Dorsey, 599 So. 2d 529, 541 (Miss. 1992). Elected officials “acting in their official capacity shed no First Amendment rights in their advocacy of policies.”Id. Although individual elected officials of cities and counties may advocate for or against matters that may be on the ballot, they cannot use public resources to support their efforts because of the prohibitions in §§ 9-500.14 and 11-410.

    * * *
    In sum, A.R.S. §§ 9-500.14 and 11-410 do not prohibit

    – elected officials from speaking out individually regarding measures on the ballot;
    – the use of public resources to respond to questions about ballot measures, although responses should provide factual information that suggest neither support nor opposition to the measure;
    – the use of public resources to investigate the impact of ballot measures on a jurisdiction;
    – the use of public resources to prepare and distribute the election information required by statute; and
    – the preparation and dissemination of materials “reporting on official actions of the governing body.”