Funding pulled on marijuana summit


Local groups raising funds to make sure it still happens

The Oregon Marijuana, Alcohol and Other Drugs Summit, an educational event that has been planned for over one year, will proceed as scheduled despite the last minute withdrawal of BestCare, the organization that provides drug prevention, education and treatment services to Jefferson County, and staff from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, according to a press release sent Aug. 22, from Jefferson County District Attorney Steven Leriche.

BestCare had committed to provide a $15,000 grant to reimburse the travel expenses of national experts like former White House drug official Dr. Kevin Sabet, while the Oregon Liquor Control Commission was to provide staff for the event. Leriche called the Summit, "a much needed public education opportunity." Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Adkins and Pastor Jim Leach joined Leriche, who commented, "It's very odd that the big out-of-state money interests who just bought over $2 million of TV ads to promote legalized marijuana and a measure that would also decriminalize smuggling marijuana into jails and prisons, seem compelled to shut down our small-town educational forum."

The summit materials indicate that the goal of the summit is to educate the public about the impact of marijuana, alcohol and other drugs on youth in Oregon. A representative of the OLCC (the organization which would license recreational marijuana sales if Measure 91 passes in November) announced that its staff would not appear as planned via an email, stating, "wanted to let you know that due to politics, OLCC will most likely not be participating in the summit other than as audience members. This apparently comes from the governor’s office and their concern it will be seen as taking a side on the upcoming ballot measure."

Leriche said he finds OLCC’s withdrawal to be particularly ironic considering the Oregon Health Authority manager is a headliner in a "Cannabis Business Conference" that is being sponsored by big marijuana trade groups in Portland.

The summit was planned long before marijuana legalization advocates spent hundreds of thousands of dollars getting the necessary signatures to make the November ballot, the press release said.

Organizers, most of whom are ethically bound not to support or oppose any political measure, have gone to great lengths to ensure that the Madras Summit and a series of other educational forums planned between Oct. 1-8, in other Oregon communities including La Grande, Eugene, Grants Pass and Warrenton, are nonpolitical forums that offer information, not advocacy, it was noted.

On Aug. 21, Rick Treleaven, executive director of BestCare Treatment Services, sent out a notice BestCare was withdrawing its participation.

Contacted on Monday, Treleaven explained why. "The Yes on Measure 91 folks had complained to "Willamette Week" that the summitt was an attempt to influence the vote, so we had to withdraw our support," he said.

"They said we were using state and federal funds to influence the election. That wasn't our intention," he said, noting his office thought that notion was pretty farfetched.

However, when reporters started calling him with claims that BestCare was using taxpayer money to support one side, Treleaven said, "We have to bend over backwards to avoid any appearance of trying to influence the election."

He said BestCare hoped to hold a similar marijuana, alcohol, and other drug summit after the election. Although the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association and Oregon District Attorneys Association have come out opposing Measure 91, millions of out-of-state dollars are pouring into pro-pot advertising, the Leriche press release said.

Elected officials are allowed by state elections and ethics rules to express political opinions during work hours. "But that's not our role at these forums," Leriche explained. “We are there as local elected officials to answer factual questions about the law, both in the present and in the possible future." "Someone with a lot of influence doesn’t want Oregonians hearing what Dr. Sabet has to say," Leriche continued, "but if we have to hold car washes and bake sales, the summit is going forward as scheduled on Oct. 1. The public should hear the true impact of the use of intoxicants on individuals and society as a whole."

Over $2,000 of funding was pledged toward the summit as of Aug 22. Then on Aug. 25, Leriche issued another press release announcing that the Oregon State Sheriff's Association had donated $10,000 to support the summit.

Others wanting to add their support are asked to send donations to: Faith-Based Network, P.O. Box 707, Madras, OR 97741, Leriche said.