As we’ve covered before at Republic Report, one of the reasons why marijuana remains illegal and the drug war continues to rage is because special interest groups like police unions and the alcohol industry spend a lot of money to lobby for the drug war.
In Oregon, advocates of medical marijuana and other anti-drug war activists decided that they’d use a similar tactic to fight the crackdown on state medical marijuana laws.
The pro-reform Drug Policy Alliance’s Drug Policy Action, along with other anti-drug war activists, donated big to Democratic attorney general primary candidate Ellen Rosenblum, who wanted to de-prioritize cracking down on pot. The Washington Post reports that anti-drug war cash made up a quarter of the campaign donations to her campaign. Drug Policy Action donated $80,000, and $70,000 more came from marijuana reform supporter John Sperling, head of the parent company of the for-profit University of Phoenix. Oregon law allows unlimited donations to state election campaigns. Citizens for Sensible Law Enforcement, an independent group, spent $40,000 to advocate for Rosenblum and attack the marijuana policy record of her opponent, interim U.S. attorney Dwight Holton.
Rosenblum defeated Holton, who had been leading the federal crackdown on medical marijuana in the state, and had called Oregon’s liberal medical marijuana law a “trainwreck.”
Altogether, anti-drug war groups spent nearly $200,000 to unseat Holton and to back Rosenblum. “As attorney general, I will make marijuana enforcement a low priority, and protect the rights of medical marijuana patients,” she promised.
We here at Republic Report are strong advocates of campaign finance reform and kicking Big Money out of our politics. While citizens should be able to contribute limited amounts to candidates they support, we don’t think that any group, on any side of an issue, should be able to buy policy with huge donations. But it’s an interesting development that critics of the drug war are starting to pool their money to change policy, much as those who have worked to keep marijuana illegal for decades have been doing. It’s almost as if the drug war crowd got a taste of their own medicine.
UPDATE: I did some more digging and found that marijuana groups weren’t the only ones spending in the campaign. A Political Action Committee (PAC) called “Keep Portland Safe” gave a $2,500 donation to Holton shortly before the election. Who runs this PAC? Scott Westerman is its treasurer and a former police union chief. The Washington County Police Association also gave $2,500 to him this month. Trooper PAC, which represents local police unions, gave $1,000 last month to Holton. Police unions are major drug war profiteers.