Oregon’s upcoming vote on whether to legalize marijuana has generated a name-calling dispute between a congressman who wants to overhaul federal marijuana policy and a prominent district attorney who has been speaking out about the dangers of pot.
The spat between U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis erupted over whether upcoming events featuring national anti-drug activist Kevin Sabet shortly before mail ballots go out to voters amounts to political activity, and whether federal funds can be used to finance the events.
Blumenauer on Friday sent a letter to White House drug czar Michael Botticelli calling for a federal investigation into whether federal funds financing the Oregon Marijuana Education Tour were being illegally used to pay for political activity.
“The bias of the speakers selected, the overall one-sided focus of the events, and the proximity between these events and the upcoming election are cause for concern,” Blumenauer wrote.
Marquis shot back that Blumenauer was a bully.
“He is trying to bully people – the remaining members of the tour – into not talking about marijuana,” said Marquis, the Oregon District Attorneys Association point man on Measure 91. “They are so afraid of any conversation they are willing to essentially make the allegations in Congressman Blumenauer’s letter.”
Blumenauer countered that Marquis must have forgotten they were meeting face to face next week for a debate on Measure 91 at a Salem City Club luncheon.
Blumenauer added that organizers of the tour had used federal funds to pay for newspaper ads about the dangers of marijuana.
Meanwhile, the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association is taking over funding of the events, cutting a check for $15,000, said association manager Darrell Fuller. Fuller is listed on the secretary of state election website as the contact for the campaign organization No on 91.
Fuller said there has never been controversy about the summit and tour before, but “because there happened to be something on the ballot having to do with marijuana, people are jumping up and down waving their hands. We saw value in still having the summit, so we are stepping in and covering the money they were losing.”
The summit in Madras and subsequent tour was originally financed by federal drug education grants distributed by the Oregon Health Authority to counties, said agency spokeswoman Rebeka Gipson-King.
When the authority saw a flier Aug. 19 advertising the tour, “we realized the nature of the event had changed from what our understanding was,” Gipson-King said. “It was advertising Kevin Sabet. He has a reputation for being anti-marijuana legalization. That combined with the timing of the event right before the election made us decide not to participate.”
Sabet is director of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana.
The state agency pulled employees who had been slated to moderate panels at the summit, and on Aug. 28 Karen Wheeler, manager of the Addictions and Mental Health Division, sent an email to county participants urging them to contact legal counsel over the legality of using federal funds to pay for the event.
Marquis said the sheriff’s association funding will allow the summit and tour to go forward, though with only about four or five stops at other cities.
Fuller said that he had hired Mandi Plunckett, who had been an organizer of the summit, to work for the No on 91 campaign.