Kimberly Yee and Sheila Polk Use Power to Prop Up Marijuana Prohibition
Arizonans who want to fight marijuana legalization in this state have two strong allies in powerful positions: State Senator Kimberly Yee and Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk.
Photo illustration: Ray Stern The New Prohibitionists of Arizona
Like would-be leaders of a modern-day women's temperance movement, the two Arizona politicians share a strong belief that cannabis users deserve to be jailed, and that the legalization movement sweeping the country should be literally nipped in the buds.
In the latest moves by the pair to thwart the medical-marijuana law approved by voters in 2010, Yee has single-handedly blocked a proposal to use the state's medical-marijuana fund to help study how pot may help certain ailments, and Polk has won a court battle that allows her to ban a medical user from using the drug as a condition of her probation.
Their latest efforts follow previous actions in targeting marijuana and the 2010 law, making the women among the chief pot-prohibitionists in the state.
Yee, R-Phoenix, the chair of the senate education committee, today refused to bring the study-funding proposal for a hearing -- even though it's supported by other Republicans. The bill, sponsored by State Representative Ethan Orr, R-Tucson, would have allowed the use of funds collected by the state from medical-marijuana cardholders, caregivers and dispensaries to pay for government-approved studies.
Dr. Sue Sisley, M.D., has been trying for years to launch a study on how marijuana may help people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Her proposal has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Obama Administration, and the Arizona House of Representatives.
Yee never returns our calls, but she reportedly told Fox 10 News, (KSAZ-TV), that the reason she didn't want the bill heard was "she feels backers of the scientific study want to legalize marijuana, as in Colorado or Washington state."
Yee claimed she couldn't get her Republican colleagues, including sponsor Orr, on the phone to discuss the matter. But when Fox 10 News reached Orr, who's on a trade mission in Mexico, he seems to have all but called Yee a liar, saying Yee won't return his calls.
Outraged cannabis supporters organized a phone-call blitz, but Yee has remained unmoved. [UPDATE JULY 10: This sentence, which originally said "Sisley and outraged cannabis supporters organized..." has been altered. Sisley, though outspoken on this issue and critical of Yee in news media interviews at the time this article was published, reports that she was "absolutely not" an organizer of the phone-call blitz, nor did she participate in "activism" or political activities on university work hours. The U of A told Sisley in July her contract would not be renewed, and she claims the university alleges she engaged in political activism on the job.]
Yee's previous anti-pot efforts include a failed bill that aimed to revoke a dispensary's operating license if it didn't properly label a marijuana product even once, and another failed bill that would have allowed police to destroy seized medical-marijuana, whether or not the seizure was legally valid.
Why Yee is such a crusader isn't clear from her background. She's an English major who later received a master's degree in public administration, a career government employee who once served as a cabinet member for former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Polk's rabid anti-marijuana stance is equally hard to figure out. As a top law enforcement figure in the state, in a decidedly right-wing county, her actions could be reasonably explained as pandering to her constituents. But Polk's hardcore opposition to marijuana seems to run deep, pushing her to pump out Soviet-style disinformation on the subject at times. She's also a co-chair for MATFORCE, an anti-drug organization that has taken a political stance against legalizing marijuana.