WASHINGTON — Weeks after an statewide “Oregon Marijuana Education Tour” including a summit in Central Oregon drew criticism for their perceived attempt to influence the upcoming statewide vote on legalization, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer has called for an investigation into whether federal funds were wrongly being used for advocacy.
In a letter Friday, Portland Democrat Blumenauer suggested that because the educational tour features speakers who were known to oppose legalizing marijuana, the proximity to November’s election was “cause for concern.” He asked the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the White House’s Office of National Drug Policy to look into whether the summit and tour were wrongly using federal dollars to try to influence the election.
Educational ads that highlight the negative effects of marijuana in one newspaper have been paid for using federal dollars, Blumenauer noted. A staff member at a nonprofit that contracts with Jefferson County and receives federal funds — identified in supporting documents as Best Care Treatment Services — is listed as the contact person for placing the ads elsewhere around the state as part of a strategic campaign, and she is also the director of the No on 91 Political Action Committee, he wrote.
“Using public dollars to try and target ‘General Voters’ seems very suspect and should be investigated,” Blumenauer wrote.
Although not named in the letter, Blumenauer refers to Mandi Pickett, who could not be reached for comment.
Blumenauer claims the speakers involved in the tour, including Kevin Sabet, a former Bush and Obama drug official who opposes legalization, and Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis, who has spoken publicly on behalf of the Oregon District Attorneys Association against legalization in Oregon, make the events one-sided.
On Friday, Marquis insisted the events are educational and denied suggestions they represented a shadow campaign against Measure 91.
Marquis said Blumenauer, who supports getting rid of the federal prohibition on marijuana, was trying to bully people who disagree with him.
“This is not about whether you support or oppose Measure 91. In my opinion it’s about free speech, and it’s about political bullying,” he said. “He’s grandstanding, and picking on people who can’t defend themselves. … If he had bothered to check the facts, he would have found out that the young woman took a leave of absence without pay one month ago, so that she could go to work for the No on 91 campaign.”
Blumenauer’s office did not respond Friday to requests for comment.
The educational tour, scheduled for Oct. 1 through Oct. 7, had been planned months in advance, completely separately from the anti-legalization campaign, Marquis said.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy and Oregon Health Authority had previously approved the summit and its agenda, materials and speakers, and only withdrew their support when the issue became politically controversial, he said.
Recent emails from the Office of National Drug Control Policy and Karen Wheeler, the administrator of the health authority’s Addictions and Mental Health Division, warned against using federal funds for advocacy, but they did not include legal opinions that concluded the tour and summit were not permissible, he said.
“The issue is, are public monies being used for advocacy? And the answer is no,” he said.
The events in 13 cities across Oregon, including Madras and Bend, were individually sponsored, and most of the events were canceled because sponsors pulled their funding after the advocacy allegations surfaced last month.
The Madras summit is still scheduled to go on Oct. 1-2, despite the withdrawal of funding from its main sponsor, Best Care Treatment Services. The Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association or its political action committee wrote a check for $10,000 to keep the event from being canceled, said Marquis, who still plans to participate. In this role, he will educate the public about possible criminal consequences related to marijuana as the law currently stands.
My job in that setting “is simply to be a resource, absolutely not to advocate,” he said. If asked where he stands on legalization, Marquis said he would say: “‘I can’t discuss that in this forum. In this forum, it is inappropriate for me to tell you what my opinion is.’ And that has been the plan since day one.”
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