MPP’s Rob Kampia Threatens To “Harm” Arizona Medical Marijuana Dispensary


UPDATE: MPP Communications Director Mason Tvert reached out to me to explain that “Unfortunately, Ms. Berman’s new committee grossly mischaracterized MPP’s positions. MPP has been unwavering in its support for an initiative that both includes a reasonable cap on retail licenses and allows adults to grow a limited amount of marijuana in an enclosed, locked space inside their homes. This initiative is the product of a lengthy and deliberative drafting process and represents a compromise that was agreed to by the folks representing the medical marijuana business community. It appeared that everyone was on the same page until this new committee formed and made claims to the contrary.”  I stand by my story, however, because the main points are about the threat Rob Kampia made in retaliation, and if there is no significant difference between MPPs and ALR’s plans, where’s the beef? –“R”R

Rob Kampia, the Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project, has sent an email to the head of a competing marijuana legalization initiative in Arizona, threatening to spend $10,000 “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.”  The recipient was Dr. Gina Berman MD, an emergency room physician who is the medical director of The Giving Tree Wellness Center dispensaries.

Dr. Berman was formerly on MPP’s campaign committee that is proposing a legalization initiative for Arizona that allows for generous home grow provisions and no cap on retail marijuana outlets (pot shops).  Dr. Berman disagreed with those provisions, feeling Arizonans are too conservative to support such liberal legalization, and has since filed with the Secretary of State’s office to present a more modest legalization initiative.

That’s right… MPP’s Kampia is threatening to spend money to shut down medical marijuana access because a dispensary owner supports marijuana legalization, albeit a different vision than Kampia’s.  The irony is even more sublime if we take a moment to recall the history of medical marijuana in Arizona.

You can still grow your own medical marijuana in Tuba City!
You can still grow your own medical marijuana in Tuba City!

Kampia Now Opposes His Arizona 2010 Campaign Principles

In 2010, MPP proposed a very conservative medmj law for Arizona. It was the first medmj law at the time that restricted the right of patients to grow their own marijuana. It was a “25-mile halo rule”; if you lived that close to a dispensary, you don’t get to grow your own. That means now, as dispensaries exist in almost every city, that 95% 97.2% of Arizona patients must shop at dispensaries and are banned from growing at home.

At the time, when I and others complained, MPP told us that they had to “give the market to the dispensaries to ensure they are viable.” (Because, you know, it’s soooo tough to find customers for legal weed.) The other reason given is that conservative Arizona voters would never support such unlimited home growing of marijuana.

Another aspect of the 2010 medmj law was that it capped the total number of dispensaries to one per 10 pharmacies. That worked out to 126 dispensaries. At the time, MPP explained that conservative Arizona voters would never get behind the possibility of a pot shop on every corner.

It turns out that MPP may have been right. The medmj law passed with just 50.13% of the vote, the closest winning margin of any medmj state to date. It also made Arizona the first state to disallow home medical marijuana grows, a precedent that has now been followed by every medical marijuana state since.

But now, in 2016, as MPP wants to pass legalization in Arizona, Dr. Berman believes MPP is proposing a legalization that conservative Arizona voters would not support. She explains that conservative Arizona voters would never support MPP’s proposed unlimited home growing of marijuana. She also explains how conservative Arizona voters could not get behind MPP’s proposed possibility of a pot shop on every corner.

And now Rob Kampia wants to threaten her business – one of the very medical marijuana dispensaries his MPP gave a market to – for supporting a legalization plan that echoes the conservative home grow and retail aspects of his 2010 medical measure?

Fighting Someone Who’s For Legalization

Gee, I wonder how much good $10,000 could do for promoting legalization instead of trying to put out of business a medical marijuana dispensary a certain number of sick and disabled Arizonans are depending on, since Rob Kampia made sure they couldn’t grow at home if they live within a 25 mile radius?

I don’t know Arizona politics. Maybe now, after legalization has passed in four states, Arizona is ready for wide-open home grow and pot shop licensing. It sounds like MPP is proposing a legalization more to my liking than Dr. Berman’s.

But if Kampia wants us to believe, per his email, that this “will not interfere with what we’re planning,” then what’s the $10,000 paid to hate-leaflet her dispensaries for? Just to punish her for disagreement? For daring to compete with MPP?

Remember, this is a medmj dispensary fighting for legalization that believes its more conservative approach is more likely to win. This puts MPP in a weird position. MPP is usually the “sober adults in the room” when it comes to legalization, casting their org as the reasonable one against the wild-eyed, yippie-hippie, treat-it-like-tomatoes “true” legalizers. Now MPP is the one calling for wide open legalization and facing a more conservative foil in Dr. Berman’s org.

Kampia tries to play the martyr in his email, claiming that “I spent 90 days in jail for marijuana when I refused to narc on anyone in 1989 as a student at Penn State University. As such, I’m certainly willing to spend no time in jail in order to disrupt the business of someone (you) whose actions are likely to keep people in jail for marijuana.” (I think he mis-typed “no time in jail”, as the context makes it seem as if he’s willing to accept jail time to take her down. Or maybe it means “what I will do will be legal because I wish to spend no time in jail.” If so, he comes off like Robert de Niro in “Cape Fear”.) Just keep in mind, the business he’s willing to spend $10,000 to shut down is one that provides medical marijuana to sick people.

If Kampia believes so strongly in battling the foes of legalization that he’ll spend $10,000 to destroy their medical marijuana business, where was his wallet in 2010 as dispensaries in California were openly campaigning against the failed legalization Proposition 19? Where was his wallet in 2012 in Washington State as dispensaries were openly campaigning against the successful Initiative 502? They were against legalization that was already on the ballot, not for a different legalization than one that hasn’t even gathered all its signatures yet.

Oh, wait, I know.  Those weren’t MPP initiatives, were they?  See, it’s not $10,000 put up to destroy the medical enemies of legalization. It’s $10,000 put up to teach a lesson to those who’d dare choose the highway instead of Rob Kampia’s way.

The Decline and Fall of MPP

This kind of petulant behavior reeks of someone facing irrelevance.  For MPP’s first two decades, Kampia was the Big Man on Campus in marijuana reform, thanks to his access to his billionaire buddy, Peter Lewis.  But Lewis is deceased now and other philanthropic billionaires are steering clear of MPP and its scandal-plagued director.  Half of the states that have legalized didn’t need Kampia’s war chest and as more marijuana millionaires are minted and more states are legalized, the need for MPP’s bankroll and expertise decreases.  Dr. Berman isn’t threatening legalization in Arizona; she’s threatening Rob Kampia’s potential win and next fundraising pitches.

Kampia’s reputation for surmising local politics is also in a free-fall.  MPP’s efforts at legalizing (Update: I’m informed Alaska’s effort wasn’t MPP’s; apologies for the error) Alaska, Nevada, and Colorado in the 2000s were all busts (39%, 44%, 41%, and 44%) and were all beaten by California’s Prop 19 in 2010 (46%), the first 21st century legalization try funded without MPP’s help.  Prop 19 was doing well in the polls early on and had Kampia and MPP given the kind of money they dedicated to just one of their failed legalizations, Prop 19 may have passed.  But, of course, that wouldn’t have been a win for MPP.

Yes, MPP’s legalization in Colorado passed in 2012, and to be fair, was far superior to Washington’s legalization that also passed.  But Washington’s passage also underscored the fact that legalizers don’t have to rely on Rob Kampia’s way or the highway.  In the meantime, the failure of Oregon’s grassroots, underfunded, wild-eyed, yippie-hippie, treat-it-like-tomatoes “true” legalization in 2012 presaged the greatest indicator of Kampia’s inability to heed local advice.

When Oregon legalization with no national backing failed with 46.5% (again, greater support than four failed MPP initiatives), shortly thereafter, Kampia penned another poison email to Oregon activists, threatening them not to move forward with legalization initiatives in 2014.  (Bonus fact: In turning the memo over to The Oregonian to publish, Kampia outed one recipient who had specifically asked not to be identified, owing to his then-probationary status for a felony marijuana cultivation conviction.  Luckily, his home state didn’t revoke that activist’s probation, allowing him to help fundraise for Oregon’s win in 2014.)

Kampia predicted that any Oregon attempt in 2014 would lose with 47% or less of the vote, thanks to the non-presidential-year depressed election turnout among younger, more liberal voters.  He also explained “…If key players can agree on an overall plan [for 2016]… MPP is proposing to spend $700,000 over four years …If, however, a [tax & regulate] initiative is placed on the November 2014 ballot, then [Oregon] will fall by the wayside and lose its time in the sun in November 2016.”  The implicit threat was MPP would give Oregon money for 2016, unless it tried to legalize without MPP in 2014.

(Photo: Washington City Paper)
(Photo: Washington City Paper)

Of course, as it turned out, Oregon legalized without MPP, winning with 56.1% of the vote, a greater margin of support than any other legalization that has passed statewide, including MPP’s Colorado initiative in a presidential election year, winning with a nine-point-greater level of support than Kampia had predicted.

So take comfort, Dr. Berman, in knowing that Rob Kampia’s not as good at gauging local politics out West as the locals are, that Rob Kampia’s threats mean you’re on the right track, and that you worked with Rob Kampia and the breast massage didn’t happen.

"Radical" Russ Belville is a blogger, podcaster, and host of The Russ Belville Show, a daily two-hour talk radio show focused on the evolution of the legal marijuana industry in the United States. The program is airing live at 3pm Pacific Time from Portland, Oregon, on, with podcast available on iTunes and Stitcher Radio. Russ began his marijuana activism in 2005 with Oregon NORML, then in 2009 went on to work for National NORML, and found and direct Portland 2015.