THE PEOPLE who don't want you to smoke legal pot say the fix is in.
While proponents of legalization built up support for more than a year—collecting roughly $1.1 million from donors in and out of Oregon—the law enforcement types who've long opposed legalization have been quiet.
That changed Wednesday, August 13, when the Oregon State Sheriff's Association (OSSA) filed an opposition campaign with the Oregon Secretary of State's office. The "No on 91" committee, a reference to the measure that could legalize pot here come November, is directed by Marion County's sheriff. And its listed number reaches the cell phone of OSSA's executive director.
The Oregon District Attorneys Association has jumped on board as well, having voted months back to oppose legalization, according to Executive Director Doug Harcleroad.
"I can't tell you that it was [unanimous]," Harcleroad says of the vote of the state's 36 elected district attorneys, "but it was overwhelming." (Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill didn't answer an email asking for his thoughts.)
Meanwhile, every single Oregon sheriff backs No on 91, says OSSA Executive Director Darrell Fuller. A spokesman for Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton confirms he's on board.
The campaign is still working toward a more public unveiling around Labor Day, Fuller says. But a theme is already emerging: Oregon sheriffs and prosecutors say they're the overwhelming underdogs.
"This is the Washington Generals against the Harlem Globetrotters," Fuller says. "We're going to be outspent."
Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis—long one of the state's most outspoken opponents of legal pot—launches into a conversation about the campaign by calling it "the very lightly funded opposition."
Polls indicate the national mood has changed around marijuana, and Oregon-specific numbers suggest the public could be ready to follow in the footsteps of Washington and Colorado. But the law enforcement folks massing against Measure 91 are offering the same arguments that have stymied recreational pot for decades: They say kids will have easy access, and that drugged driving will skyrocket.
Marquis says of legalization, "Why does it have such a good chance? Because of big out-of-state interests with millions of dollars from billionaires."
Such "dark money" comes with plenty of questions about what donors stand to gain, he argues.
It's true out-of-staters have done some heavy lifting for New Approach Oregon, the committee backing Measure 91. Family members of Peter Lewis, the deceased co-founder of Progressive Insurance, have cut enormous checks. So has the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates easing criminal sanctions for all drug use.
And money continues to roll in. New Approach announced a $2.3 million ad blitz on Monday, August 18. Campaign Director Liz Kaufman says the campaign will report hundreds of thousands in new donations within the coming weeks.
So where will "No on 91" find money to spread the competing gospel of prohibition? According to Fuller and Marquis, options are limited. The sheriff's association will cut a check, and the prosecutors group is considering it. They're also counting on support from drug treatment centers, Marquis says, adding that he also anticipates staffers from Portland-area treatment centers will participate in town halls around legalization.
And "No on 91" plans to make a pitch to Oregon businesses, says Fuller, claiming that productivity will tank if pot is widely available.
Neither the Oregon Business Association nor the Portland Business Alliance has taken a stand on Measure 91. OBA President Ryan Deckert doesn't expect his membership will ever weigh in. The PBA says it's too soon to tell.