Home / General / The Oregon Attorney General Race and the War on Drugs

The Oregon Attorney General Race and the War on Drugs


Jill Harris has a nice summary of the Oregon Attorney General race, one of the most interesting and potentially important downticket races this year. Because the Republicans stupidly decided not to run someone here, it’s being decided in the upcoming Democratic primary on May 15 (and under Oregon mail voting laws, people are already sending in their ballots).

Although there are 2 Democrats running, they are different as night and day. This has turned into a single-issue race: medical marijuana and drug decriminalization. Former Interim U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton is running on his record as a drug buster, using all the typical anti-drug hysteria one would expect. The other candidate, Ellen Rosenblum, is a former judge who didn’t intend on running on medical marijuana, but when the ground began to shift, stated her progressive position on it, even visiting medical marijuana clinics on campaign stops.

A Holton victory certainly will not only put the clamps down on Oregon’s medical marijuana laws but will be a pretty big defeat for those who support these laws. If a pro-medical pot candidate can’t win in Oregon, can one win anywhere? The upshot of a Rosenblum victory is a bit less clear to me. With Obama’s increasingly aggressive crackdown on marijuana growers and the continued hostility of law enforcement, I don’t know that it moves Oregon off of the standoff it already has with the feds. But it would be a rare case of a state’s top law enforcement officer being elected on an explicitly pro-medical marijuana platform and that’s meaningful.

Harris doesn’t provide any polling data. Internal polls have each candidate ahead, with Rosenblum’s poll giving her a sizable lead and Holton’s a small one. Neither poll seems all that telling to me. Given that this is a Democratic primary in Oregon and not a general election, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see Rosenblum win. And this gets back to the stupidity of Republicans for not running someone. I don’t know whether Rosenblum could win a statewide race against a credible Republican on this platform. It’s possible, but I don’t see how it wasn’t worth a shot at least for Republicans. Of course, given the Oregon Republican Party’s complete lack of credibility (please continue to nominate right-wing extremists and indifferent athletes in a state dominated by Portland and Eugene!), they might not have anyone credible to run.

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  • Charlie Sweatpants

    “If a pro-medical pot candidate can’t win in Oregon, can one win anywhere? The upshot of a Rosenblum victory is a bit less clear to me.”

    Everything I know about this race I just read in this blog post, so forgive me if I’m way off base or reading too much into this, but the only way we’re ever going to get rid of the Drug War is if elections can be won in the face of drug scaremongering. Groups like NORML are lousy with people who are former cops, former prosecutors, former elected officials. Winning statewide elections anywhere without hiding a pro-decriminalization stance (however compromised and weak) is a sign of real progress.

  • wengler

    The real reason for the crackdown on medical marijuana is the DEA has 11,000 employees and a budget of 2.5 billion dollars. Gotta justify being a useless agency in times of fiscal austerity.

  • “the Republicans stupidly decided not to run someone here”

    How is that stupid? From what you’ve written here, one candidate in the race represents well what most Republicans think. It’s like asking why the Republicans haven’t found someone better than Mitt Romney to challenge President Obama.

    • From what I read in the comments here, the Republicans might as well not run anyone for president, since they’re getting everything they want from Obama.

      But in high-profile races, it’s always better to show willing and run someone rather than no one. I can’t imagine what the Oregon GOP was thinking.

    • Tybalt

      Because if Rosenblum wins the Dem nomination, given Holton’s popularity it seems a Republican might well have won.

  • ar_in_or

    Just FYI, the race on the ground here in Oregon has not had much to do with the medical pot. Generally this is been a rerun of the 2008 Primary (which also had no Republican), with one candidate arguing for an activist DOJ (last time law professor John Kroger, this time Holton) and one arguing for an advisory role for the DOJ (last Rep. Greg McPherson, this time Rosenblum). If anything the small difference between the two over mandatory minimums have had much, much more chatter and comes up more in actual canvassing. If you get into the actual code book numbers from that poll, the pot issue is not a big issue.

  • David Kaib

    The difficulty we have here is that we spend an inordinate amount of time discussing the flaws of Republican candidates and the regressive policies of the reddest states and a lot less time discussing how to make change in the more blue states. Here is a case where a progressive position could get a foothold towards legitimacy is progressives could help tip the balance. Yet this is the first I’ve heard of this, and I suspect I’m not alone.

  • The major policy issue in this race is clearly cannabis. Both candidates have great resumes and stances nearly identical on most issues. The glaring policy difference is in regards to cannabis law in general, not just support for the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program.
    The National Cannabis Coalition has polling conducted by DHM Research that demonstrates that Judge Rosenblum is clearly more in touch with the will of Oregon voters, particularly Democrats. A whopping 84% of Oregon Demorats agreed with the following statement: “Enforcing the marijuana laws is a waste of police time, resources, and jail space. We should focus police on more important priorities like violent crime.”

    Judge Rosenblum has stated very clearly that she will prioritize serious and violent crime over the enforcement of marijuana offenses. Dwight Holton has never made such claim and has even demonized Judge Rosenblum for her position, including in a recent e-mail blast to potential campaign donors. The issue of cannabis has dominated the news coverage of this race. If the polls hold up and Judge Rosenblum wins, her position on cannabis will be the reason and future Democratic candidates should take notice.


  • ar_in_or

    Going door to door, nobody brings it up. When asked, support for mandatory (Oregon’s Measure 11 crimes) minimums pops up more as what people see as the difference between the two (Rosenbaum is less supportive of it). Looking at the KATU poll, drug enforcement does not rank all that high in the poll.

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