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Pot Politics: Will Oregon's Attorney General Election Send a Crucial Message to Dispensary-Busting Feds?

If the candidate who ordered raids on medical pot growers in Southern Oregon loses the election, the loss may reverberate with US Attorneys around the country.
 
 
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Medical marijuana has become a major issue in the Democratic primary for attorney general in Oregon. The candidates have staked out starkly different positions on the issue, with former judge Ellen Rosenblum supportive of patients’ right to safe and legal access to medical marijuana, and former Interim US Attorney Dwight Holton sharply critical of the program. With no Republican having filed for the office, the winner of the Democratic primary will be the state’s next attorney general, and the fate of Oregon’s medical marijuana program may hang in the balance. Oregon’s voting is done entirely by mail. Ballots went out on April 27 and must be posted by May 15.

Dwight Holton served as Interim US Attorney in 2010 and 2011. In that role he ordered raids on medical marijuana growers in Southern Oregon and threatened providers and their landlords with property confiscation under federal law. A number of US Attorneys in other states have taken or threatened similar punitive action against growers and/or dispensary owners, but Holton is the first to subsequently run for elected office and be held accountable to voters for his actions on behalf of the federal government in his prior position. Were Holton to lose this election, due in any part to his anti-medical marijuana stance, the loss would reverberate with US Attorneys around the country, sending them a clear message that thwarting the will of the voters and denying sick patients access to their medicine is not a path to political career advancement.

Candidate Rosenblum, whose campaign focuses on her support of Oregon’s most vulnerable citizens, did not initially emphasize her support for Oregon’s medical marijuana program in the campaign. But as the race evolved and the issue took center stage, Rosenblum has not shrunk from her support of the program. A few weeks ago Rosenblum made a very public visit to a medical marijuana dispensary to show her support for Oregon patients and their right to safe and legal access to the medicine they need.

Holton, on the other hand, has doubled down on his drug warrior rhetoric, accusing Rosenblum of “courting drug legalization forces” for accepting the support of people in the medical marijuana community and Drug Policy Action, a national organization that advocates on behalf of medical marijuana patients. Holton has promised to work with Republican legislators who are “anxious” to change Oregon’s medical marijuana law.

The majority of the ballots have not come in, so we won’t know until May 15 whether Oregon voters will send a message to US Attorneys in medical marijuana states around the country: Hands off our medicine! 

Jill Harris is the managing director of strategic initiatives for Drug Policy Action.