Elected attorneys general are powerful players in defining the policies and programs of states across the country. And that goes double when it comes to the failed and fiercely expensive “war on drugs.”
So what if a state were to elect an attorney general who gets it, who understands that law enforcement should be focused on real threats, not whether folks choose to smoke a little marijuana—for medical purposes or for pleasure?
That’s the question facing Oregon Democratic primary voters today, as they choose a nominee to replace retiring state Attorney General John Kroger.
One of the Democratic contenders, former interim US attorney Dwight Holton, is a critic of Oregon’s medical marijuana law, saying that the law is a “train wreck” and promising strict oversight. The Associated Press reports: “Holton was the state’s top federal prosecutor when federal agents raided marijuana farms that, according to the owners, were growing pot for medicinal use. Authorities said the farms were producing marijuana that ended up on the black market.”
The other Democrat, former Oregon Court of Appeals Judge Ellen Rosenblum, says: “The priorities of the next Attorney General need to be wisely using our limited tax dollars—protecting consumers and prosecuting dangerous criminals. I do not believe that prosecuting people for possessing small amounts of marijuana represents the best use of our resources. A better use of those resources is providing more treatment options for people with drug and alcohol addiction. As Attorney General, I will make marijuana enforcement a low priority, and protect the rights of medical marijuana patients.”
The difference has shaken up the primary race, with advocates for drug-policy reform steering grassroots support and campaign money to Rosenblum, who polls suggest has come from behind to be a serious competitor for the nomination.
That has drawn criticism from the Holton camp. “A campaign promise not to enforce the law—especially when one is running to be Oregon’s top law enforcement officer—sends all the wrong signals about having respect for Oregon law and the responsibility of the Attorney General has to uphold it,” said Jillian Schoene, spokeswoman for the Holton campaign. “With Rosenblum at the helm, drug traffickers who abuse state marijuana laws know that they will be able to continue to use Oregon for backdoor legalization.”