As Oregon gears up to pass a marijuana legalization initiative known as Measure 91, law enforcement officials throughout the state may have already been using taxpayer-funded offices, email accounts, facilities, and work hours illegally to campaign against the initiative. This is the beginning of a five-part series investigating allegations of ethics violations and violations of elections law.
Federal election law is clear and Oregon’s election statutes (ORS 260.432[i]) are even more stringent[ii]. Both elected and unelected officials may not use any staff time, equipment, facilities, phones, computers, and services paid for by taxpayer dollars to engage in influencing an election for public office or citizen initiative. Even something as innocuous as requesting feedback to a state email address or responding to personal Facebook inquiries on a personal cell phone regarding the measure while on the clock or in the office is patently illegal.
The controversy surrounds a two-day “Oregon Marijuana, Alcohol & Other Drugs Summit” in Madras, Oregon, followed by a twelve-city “Oregon Marijuana Education Tour” consisting of two-hour marijuana speeches. The Oregonian has reported on headline speaker, Kevin Sabet, who insisted “These are educational events, not political events,” and assured the public that no speaker would be mentioning the initiative.
The summit and tour are scheduled for the first week in October, just as Oregonians, who vote entirely by mail, will be receiving their ballots. The two-day summit begins with an entire eight-hour day discussing marijuana. On day two, they’ll devote two hours to alcohol, 90 minutes on prescription drugs and heroin, and 80 minutes on meth. Also on day two, they’ll deliver 80 minutes on adolescent brain development that will likely spend some time on marijuana, and another half hour from the creator of and only judge to ever serve on the Washington County Drug Court, Judge Thomas Kohl, who blames his daughter’s murder on the drug addiction she began with marijuana.
If you’re keeping track, that’s eight hours on marijuana in one city, followed by two hours on marijuana in each of twelve cities, for a total of 32 hours on marijuana “education” in thirteen cities, being delivered by a former Drug Czar adviser, Kevin Sabet, who earlier this year opposed marijuana legalization before the Oregon legislature, county district attorneys who oppose marijuana legalization, and members of the Colorado and Washington chapters of Project SAM (the ironically named Smart Approaches to Marijuana project co-founded by the former Drug Czar adviser) that officially opposes marijuana legalization in Oregon, versus ten minutes short of five hours in one city on all other drugs and alcohol combined, just as Oregonians receive their ballots to vote on marijuana legalization.
If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a little more than just an educational event on waterfowl. When it comes to the law, even if there is only a perception that an event is political event, it is a political event.
Check back tomorrow for the next report in our continuing series, “Oregon Marijuana Election Shenanigans Part II: District Attorney Marquis Admits ‘Educational Event’ is Political
[i] “‘Informational’ material may be found to ‘promote or oppose’ a measure even if it does not do so in so many words if the information presented to the public clearly favors or opposes the measure and, taken as a whole, clearly is intended to generate votes for or against a measure.” — Oregon Attorney General letter dated October 5, 1993.
[ii] ORS 260.432(2) states that public employees (including school administrators, city managers, police chiefs, etc.) may not be involved in promoting or opposing any political committee or any initiative, referendum or recall petition, measure or candidate “while on the job during working hours.” — Oregon Secretary of State, “Restrictions on Political Campaigning by Public Employees ORS 260.432”