A nonprofit group has canceled an October anti-drug summit in Madras — which was to feature a prominent opponent of marijuana legalization — after complaints were raised by sponsors of the ballot measure that would permit recreational use of the drug.
The sponsors of the legalization initiative, Measure 91, charged this week that it was wrong for summit organizers to use federal funds to help pay for an appearance by Kevin Sabet, a former White House drug adviser who has formed an organization opposing marijuana legalization.
Sabet was also scheduled to appear in 12 other Oregon cities as part of an "Oregon Marijuana Education Tour" following the summit. Sabet had said that, at the request of organizers, he would not talk about the ballot measure at either the Madras event or on the tour.
Rick Treleaven, the executive director of BestCare Treatment Practices and the organizer of the Madras summit, said he decided to cancel the summit because he "could see from an outside perspective that it could look like a conflict."
Treleaven, whose nonprofit that runs community mental health programs for Jefferson County, said he did not know if the 12-city tour featuring Sabet would still take place. "It depends on what the other folks do," he said, referring to the local sponsors, some of whom were also using federal anti-drug grants to help pay for the events.
Treleaven said he hoped to reschedule the Madras summit for some time after the election. He has noted that the summit has been held for several years in October and that this year’s event was not intended to influence the marijuana vote.
However, Anthony Johnson, chief sponsor of the marijuana legalization measure, said Wednesday that the heavy focus on marijuana during the summit and on the tour smacked of electioneering using federal money — even if participants did not specifically discuss the initiative.
Johnson could not be reached Thursday evening, but Peter Zuckerman, a spokesman for the campaign said sponsors did the right thing in canceling the summit and should do the same for the 12-city tour.
"Federal taxpayer dollars should not be used to influence an election," he said. "Calling this an educational campaign is ridiculous."