Will Oregon's Next Attorney General Uphold Its Medical Marijuana Law?


Medical marijuana is a major issue in the race for attorney general of Oregon, which has allowed patients to grow the plant or designate caregivers to grow it for them since an initiative to that effect was passed in 1998. Next week voters will choose the Democratic nominee for the state's top law enforcement position (who looks sure to take the job since there is no Republican candidate), and one contender, former Court of Appeals judge Ellen Rosenblum, is notably friendlier to medical marijuana than her opponent, former federal prosecutor Dwight Holton. Although Rosenblum rather implausibly claims she can't recall whether she voted for the 1998 initiative or a 2010 initiative that would have authorized dispensaries, she says she will "support the will of the people, which is the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act," adding, "We have a lot of pioneering laws in this state. And this is one of them."

By contrast, Holton—who ran the U.S. Attorney's Office in Oregon in 2010 and 2011, during federal raids on medical marijuana growers—has called the law "a train wreck," complaining that it's too easy to be certified as a patient and that cannabis ostensibly grown for medical use ends up on the black market. Holton criticizes Rosenblum for indicating that prosecuting pot cases would be a low priority for her. Rosenblum, meanwhile, faults Holton, who is a fan of mandatory minimum sentences and boasts that he has "overwhelming support" from cops and prosecutors, for "trying to climb the career ladder on the backs of medical marijuana patients." Drug Policy Action, the 501(c)(4) offshoot of the Drug Policy Alliance, is backing Rosenblum "because she supports the rights of Oregonians who are medical marijuana patients to have safe and legal access to their medicine."

The outcome of the election could have national significance in light of the ongoing federal crackdown on medical marijuana, which is not sparing suppliers who comply with state law, contrary to promises by President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder. Obama made two of those promises in Oregon when he was running for president in 2008, saying in one interview that he would stop raids on medical marijuana growers because "our federal agents have better things to do" and in another that "I'm not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue." How'd that work out?