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Big Year for Pot Politics

Pot smoked other issues as the hot topic in the May 15 Oregon attorney general primary race, in a sign that Oregon voters don’t see enforcement of marijuana prohibition as a law enforcement priority. It’s continuing as an issue thanks to petition drives asking voters to put legalizing pot on Oregon’s November ballot.

No Republicans ran in the primary, so Democrats Ellen Rosenblum and Dwight Holton faced off in a showdown that will likely decide the November AG race. Rosenblum won with 64 percent of the votes after enforcement of pot prohibition made the Oregon AG race a topic in publications across the country like the Chicago Tribune and The Huffington Post.

On her website, Rosenblum wrote that she’d make marijuana enforcement a low priority as attorney general, while Holton said at a March 20 Eugene City Club debate that Oregon’s medical marijuana law, as run, is a “ train wreck” because “it’s putting marijuana in the hands of people, in the hands of kids, who are not using it for pain management purposes.” Holton also said, before and during the campaign, that he supports the medical marijuana law and those who are in compliance. 

“In Oregon, this issue is more important than people realize,” says Robert Wolfe of Citizens for Sensible Law Enforcement, which donated $53,000 in in-kind contributions to Rosenblum’s campaign. Wolfe says his group reached out across demographics to publicize differences in Rosenblum and Holton on weed, and young voters and parents concerned about their kids losing scholarship opportunities due to possession convictions were among the most responsive. 

A source familiar with the Holton campaign told EW that polling showed that any differences between the candidates’ positions on marijuana weren’t stark enough to sway voters one way or the other, but the source said that they did have the potential to generate out-of-state campaign donations for Rosenblum.

After the widespread publicity on the AG race and marijuana, Rosenblum’s campaign contributions also included $80,000 from Drug Policy Action and $70,000 from businessman and medical marijuana activist John Sperling.

Meanwhile, the initiative process is under way for the November ballot, and two petition drives say that they’ve gathered more signatures than are required. Wolfe is a chief sponsor of Initiative 24, which would give Oregon adults the state constitutional right to possess marijuana.

Wolfe says that Oregonians smoke weed at a rate 40 percent higher than the national average. “We can’t keep criminalizing such a huge percentage of our population when there are more important ways to spend our limited resources,” he says.

Initiative 9 would allow the commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana.

Despite having to fight the secretary of state on a proposed $65,000 fine for allegedly paying petitioners per signature (Wolfe says he is innocent), Wolfe thinks his initiative has a good chance of passing in November. “We’re not going to run a campaign that glorifies the marijuana lifestyle — that’s not what we’re about,” Wolfe says. “It’s a matter of social justice. We want to end prohibition because it’s a failed policy that costs us too much in every possible way.”