With the primaries for the Glendale City Council set to take place on August 28, 2018, the largest individual donors in the race had something in common: they were all owners of the very same medical cannabis dispensary in the city.
Mark Myer, Ryan Wells and William Benjamin Myer were the owners of a dispensary named Arizona Organix, and the 3 donated a little more than $38,000 to a trio of candidates that were involved in a pair of competitive races.
The donations all came in May of that year after the city council narrowly voted a few months earlier in favor of lessening a number of restrictions relating to the city’s zoning laws in regards to cannabis dispensaries. During public hearings prior to the vote on the measures, Arizona Organix expressed a desire to expand its current operations.
Max Contributions Made
In the race for the Ocotillo district council seat, Arizona Organix’s three owners gave money both to the incumbent Jamie Aldama and the challenger Emmanuel Allen. The 3 donated $6,350 each to Allen, which was the maximum allowed by Arizona state law, for a total contribution of $19,050. At the same time, the two Myers donated $6,350 each to Aldama, for a total contribution of $12,700.
Mark Myer further donated in another competitive council race that year. He donated $6,350 to Ray Strahl, who ran against incumbent Bart Turner in the Barrel District.
In another race, Vice Mayor Lauren Tolmachoff ran without opposition for the Cholla district seat and did not receive any money from Arizona Organix’s owners.
The owner’s combined contributions formed a significant portion of the total amount of contributions the candidates received. They represented 80% of Allen’s total contributions and nearly 74% of Strahl’s contributions. They further represented more than 26% of contributions to Aldama, who also received nearly $10,000 from a number of local firefighter union political-action committees.
When asked about the contributions, Arizona Organix’s owners issued a joint statement through their attorney, in which they stated that they hope to be part of Glendale’s continuing growth and that they are taking a long-term view about their Glendale marijuana dispensary there. They further said that they appreciate the efforts of elected officials of both parties who have come together to make the city a great place for both running a business and raising a family.
While the state of Arizona regulates the operations of local medical cannabis dispensaries as well as cannabis production in the state, city councils determine where dispensaries can do business and how they can conduct business.
In 2012, Arizona Organix was the first dispensary to open in the entire state. It had since seen demand rise dramatically. Their number of annual patients more than doubled from 40,000 to nearly 90,000. The company’s lawyer, Tom Galvin, told the city council in March of 2018 that there were not enough seats in the dispensary’s waiting room to accommodate all their patients. He asked the council to let the company expand its operation at its current location at the intersection of Glendale Avenue and 53rd.
The city council, in response, voted to change two relevant zoning laws. They let medical cannabis companies expand operations from 2,000 square feet to 6,000 square feet, and they let them stay open until 10 p.m., which was two hours later than previously allowed.
Voting in favor of the measures were Aldama, Turner and a third councilman named Ian Hugh. Mayor Jerry Weiers also voted in favor of the measures. Tolmachoff voted against the measure, along with two other councilpersons: Joyce Clark and Ray Malnar.
Aldama Did Not See a Conflict
Aldama insisted that there was no conflict of interest in his vote. He said that the owners of the dispensary made the donation through his campaign website and that they never discussed with him why they made the donation. He further insisted that donations do not in any way beholden him to vote a certain way on future measures.
Aldama also added that he did not believe that there were any measures relating to medical marijuana that would come up after the election.
Not All Officials Were Equally Transparent About the Donations
All those running for city council were required to submit campaign finance forms that listed the names and occupations of all contributors, including where they work. But some councilpersons were more transparent than others when it came to disclosing this information.
On the campaign finance forms submitted by both Aldama and Strahl, they listed the names of Arizona Organix’s owners as well as their affiliation with the company. But Allen’s form listed the owners’ occupation as “self-employed.” According to state guidelines, when listing a contributor as “self-employed” candidates must also provide the name of the business where they work, along with the title that they hold at the company.