Oregon Officials Using Public Money to Fight Marijuana Legalization Initiative
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 a four-part series investigating allegations of ethics violations and violations of elections law.
Part I: If it Looks Like a Duck…
Federal election law is clear and Oregon’s election statutes (ORS 260.432) are even more stringent. 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.
Part II: District Attorney Marquis Admits “Educational Event” is Political
The Oregonian has reported that Kevin Sabet, the headline speaker of a two-day “Oregon Marijuana, Alcohol & Other Drugs Summit” in Madras, Oregon, and a twelve-city “Oregon Marijuana Education Tour” consisting of two-hour marijuana speeches, insisted “These are educational events, not political events,” and assured the public that no speaker would be mentioning Measure 91, the initiative to legalize marijuana in Oregon.
However, 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 to vote on marijuana legalization Measure 91. 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. And it seems that some of the organizations formerly involved with promoting the summit and tour also recognize a political duck when they see one.
BestCare Prevention Services pulled its $15,000 of federal grant funding out of the event because of its political nature. Rick Treleaven of BestCare told the Oregonian that he “could see from an outside perspective that it could look like a conflict.” As to why there’s so much marijuana discussed in a supposed anti-drug educational summit, Treleaven told the Oregonian that marijuana is the “hot topic of the moment,” partially due to the legalization debate.
Members of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission have also stepped away from speaking spots at the summit. “Due to politics,” the commission announced, “OLCC will most likely not be participating in the summit other than as audience members.”
Some elected officials, however, are still keen on their participation in the summit as an “educational event.” The leading in-state opponent of marijuana legalization is Josh Marquis, the Clatsop County District Attorney. The Bend Bulletin reached out to Marquis for comment on Measure 91. Marquis is scheduled to be one of the speakers at the summit. “Marquis said a cluster of seminars scheduled throughout the state in October could pour water on the measure,” writes reporter Taylor Anderson, leading me to believe that Marquis understands full well the summit and tour are political events and his appearance there will help defeat Measure 91.
The billing for the summit includes “Sgt. Michael Iwai, Oregon State Police; Chris Gibson, Oregon HIDTA; Jim Adkins, Jefferson County Sheriff; Josh Marquis, Clatsop County DA; and Steven Leriche, Jefferson County DA.” That would fall under “appearing at an event as a representative of a jurisdiction,” which is also a prohibited activity for public officials at a political event.
Part III: Public Resources Used to Fight Legalization
The original sponsor of the two-day “Oregon Marijuana, Alcohol & Other Drugs Summit” in Madras, Oregon pulled its $15,000 of federal grant funding, because of the event’s political nature. The event, scheduled to take place as voters receive their ballots to vote on the marijuana legalization initiative, Measure 91, has been criticized by the Measure 91 campaign as a political event, not an educational one. Stepping up to fill the funding gap is a county district attorney and the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association, who may have violated the law by using public funds for electioneering purposes.
Jefferson County DA Steven Leriche, who “said he spent Friday morning on the phone trying to raise the $15,000 it would take to make sure the conference goes on. He said he’s chipped in $500 personally and has raised $2,000 so far,” according to the Oregonian. If that was time spent on a county phone, or a call made from a county office on county time, or he represented himself as “Jefferson County DA,” or he was using contacts from a county or state database to fundraise from, he has already broken the law.
Leriche was aided recently by the Sheriffs’ Association donation of $10,000 to keep the summit alive. (Funny how there’s plenty of money for sheriffs to oppose marijuana legalization, but not enough to send a sheriff out to respond to a 911 rape call.) Leriche tells KTVZ in Bend that the summit is merely “a much needed public education opportunity,” but then goes on to complain that “big out-of-state money interests who just bought over $2 million of TV ads to promote legalized marijuana … seem compelled to shut down our small-town educational forum,” and that “Someone with a lot of influence doesn’t want Oregonians hearing what Dr. Sabet has to say,” which seem to indicate that Leriche also understands full well the political nature of these events.
Then there are the “Marijuana Educational Ads” presented by BestCare online in association with the summit, which explains, “Prevention staff in Jefferson, Grant, Deschutes, and Crook counties have partnered together with Dr. Kevin Sabet and Eric Martin to develop marijuana educational ads to be used to disseminate public health facts.” For questions, BestCare directs folks to call Russ Comer at Grant County, Jessica Jacks at Deschutes County, and Brenda Comini at Crook County. While the ads may have been developed in 2012, taking calls about them in conjunction with a political event scheduled in 2014 on county phone lines while on county time is illegal and helping to put them on the BestCare summit website certainly qualifies as “posting material to an official website (and approving material to be posted to an official website)” which is forbidden by law.
Connie Raemakers is the head of Tigard Turns the Tide, which is a non-profit dedicated to fighting youth drug abuse. She is now coordinating the twelve-city tour and she insists “We are not out to tell voters how to vote,” and says the local groups will not use public funds for their individual stops on the tour. However, a flyer for the event in Oregon City explains how Kevin Sabet, the head of anti-legalization Project SAM, will be there. It explains how it is “made possible by your local Drug Free Communities Coalitions” (federal grant money) “and the Clackamas County Prevention Coalition” (state money). It directs people to RSVP to Elizabeth Russell at an orecity.k12.or.us email address, which is the domain for the school district in Oregon City. Perhaps even the paper, ink, and printers necessary to make the flyer are state property as well as the contacts list used to determine recipients of the flyer.
Part IV: The Sheriff’s Reefer Mad “Facts”
Thanks to the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association donation of $10,000 to the two-day “Oregon Marijuana, Alcohol & Other Drugs Summit” in Madras, Oregon, this event, roundly criticized in the media as a political event intended to oppose Measure 91 to legalize marijuana, will go on as scheduled, allegedly as an “educational event”, despite the primary funder pulling its $15,000 donation and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission pulling out of the event due to its political nature.
The head of the Sheriffs’ Association clearly believes the summit is a political event designed to oppose Measure 91. The president and Gilliam County Sheriff Gary Bettencourt writes, “I for one, along with my fellow Oregon Sheriffs, are saying no to the legalization of marijuana and vow to stay in the fight for as long as it takes. We refuse to give up, so please join us in voting no to any further legalization of marijuana.”
According to laws governing 501(c)(3) organizations like the Sheriffs’ Association, they may oppose Measure 91, but the funds used must be accounted for under the limited amounts they are allowed for lobbying under IRS code. According to their IRS 990, in 2012 the Sheriffs’ Association had a $1.1 million budget, half-a-million from grants mostly spent on Sheriff’s Staff overtime, and spent about $50,000 on lobbying activities.
If the Sheriffs’ Association accounts for their $10,000 donation as part of their allowed lobbying activities, that would clearly define the event from their perspective as a political one. If instead they cling to the idea they are merely funding an educational campaign, they need to demonstrate that the information they are helping to disseminate is non-biased and factual. “I routinely encounter those who are high on marijuana,” says Sheriff Bettencourt. “In these altered states, they believe such things like having the ability to stop a moving train or seeing airplanes spreading harmful chemicals down on to the earth from above.” When Sheriff Bettencourt writes lines worthy of the 1936 propaganda film Reefer Madness, it’s difficult to think of him and the sheriffs as unbiased.
As for factual, when Sheriff Bettencourt writes, “Today’s marijuana is upwards of 25 times stronger than it was in the 1960’s and 70’s,” he is not presenting factual information. According to the Drug Czar’s own published data, the highest average potency listed is 14.56% and has been in the 12%-14% range since 2000. If Sheriff Bettencourt really believes the average marijuana of the 1960s and 1970s was 25 times weaker, around 0.58% THC or lower, then he believes Woodstock was fueled by industrial hemp that doesn’t get one high. Marijuana 25 times weaker than the strongest sample ever tested by the HIGH TIMES Cannabis Cup (25.49%) would be at 1% THC, the level considered the lowest threshold at which users feel high. Even marijuana 25 times weaker than the government’s top claim of 37% would be less than 1.5% THC. It’s difficult to believe the people creating and enjoying the music and fashions of The Summer of Love were smoking marijuana that would barely get one high.
Sheriff Bettencourt also falsely asserts “Colorado and Washington are seeing dramatic increases in marijuana impaired drivers and crashes, up 50%.” According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, crash fatality figures for Colorado and Washington, and for that matter, Oregon, are at some of the lowest levels ever recorded and well below national averages.
Sheriff Bettencourt is trying to refer to detection of THC in the bodies of crash fatalities, which has increased, but is irrelevant since marijuana remains in one’s system long after impairing effects wane. It’s hardly surprising that we’ll find more people have used marijuana once it is legalized. You may as well note that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of married gay people killed in car wrecks lately, since gay marriage has been legalized – that doesn’t mean getting gay married leads to dying in car wrecks.
Another factual problem for Sheriff Bettencourt on these “dramatic increases in marijuana impaired drivers and crashes” is that when officers in Larimer County, Colorado, set up a Friday night DUI checkpoint, in three-and-a-half hours they processed over 1,500 cars. From that, they made 20 alcohol DUI arrests and zero marijuana DUI arrests. In Washington State, where cops performed an annual two-week DUI program that began the weekend of Seattle Hempfest and ended Labor Day, they made fewer total DUI arrests around Seattle the year after marijuana was legalized. There were 5,952 collisions involving drug or alcohol impaired drivers in 2013, down from 6,641 collisions in 2012.
“‘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. ↑
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” ↑
A public employee cannot promote or oppose a political position while they are on the job during work hours. — Oregon Secretary of State, “Restrictions on Political Campaigning by Public Employees ORS 260.432” ↑
A spokesperson for an agency may respond to media inquiries about the possible effects of a measure or petition so long as the information they provide is impartial. The public employee must not state or imply support or opposition. — ibid ↑
Common activities that are always undertaken in an official capacity (regardless of time of day or location) and are therefore subject to the requirements or ORS 260.432 include – Appearing at an event as a representative of a jurisdiction. — ibid ↑
“I don’t have anybody to send out there. You know, obviously, if he comes inside the residence and assaults you, can you ask him to go away?” – 911 operator, Josephine County, May 2014, to a woman who was then later choked and raped by her ex-boyfriend, because budget cuts prevented staffing the sheriff’s office on the weekends. ↑
Common activities that are always undertaken in an official capacity (regardless of time of day or location) and are therefore subject to the requirements or ORS 260.432 include – posting material to an official website (and approving material to be posted to an official website) [and] – drafting or distributing an official publication from the jurisdiction. — Oregon Secretary of State, “Restrictions on Political Campaigning by Public Employees ORS 260.432” ↑
“Industrial hemp has a THC content of between [0.5%] and 1%. Marijuana has a THC content of 3% to 20%. To receive a standard psychoactive dose would require a person to power-smoke 10-12 hemp cigarettes over an extremely short period of time. The large volume and high temperature of vapor, gas and smoke would be almost impossible for a person to withstand.” — North American Industrial Hemp Council, “Hemp Facts”, http://naihc.org/hemp_information/hemp_facts.html retrieved 8/27/2014. ↑
Colorado = 1.01 / 42% decline since 1994
Oregon = 1.01 / 40% decline since 1994
Washington = 0.78 / 42% decline since 1994
USA Total = 1.13 / 35% decline since 1994 ↑
“Larimer County sobriety checkpoint nets 22 weekend arrests,” Denver Post, May 12, 2014. ↑
“’Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over’ Patrols Result in Thousands of DUI Arrests”, AVVO.com, accessed August 27, 2014 ↑
Washington State Traffic Safety Commission “Target Zero” data from 2013 and 2012 Collision Summaries, accessed August 27, 2014. ↑