Holton, 46, is the son of Kinwood Holton, a former Republican governor in Virginia, and the brother-in-law of Tim Kaine, the former Democratic National Committee chairman and former Virginia governor. He moved to Oregon in 2002 from New York, where he had served as a federal prosecutor. "[My wife and I] were tired of living in a place where it took an hour to get out of the city when you wanted to go to the ocean or go into the mountains," he says. After moving out west, he began teaching at the Lewis & Clark Law School for a year and a half before joining the U.S. Attorney's office in Oregon (he's still an adjunct professor). In 2010, he was appointed interim U.S. Attorney until October of last year. Holton's candidacy has been endorsed by 56 Oregon sheriffs and district attorneys and two major state teacher's unions.
Holton says he's a firm supporter of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, which he calls a "compassionate" law that he will enforce and protect if he becomes Attorney General. He thinks the campaign against him from activists and Rosenblum is "much ado about nothing." What he opposes, he says, are those who abuse the state law to funnel marijuana into the black market.
Opponents point to three actions when citing reasons for opposing him. The first is a letter he sent to dozens of establishments he suspected were selling pot. "In June of 2011, I joined together with 35 out of 36 district attorneys of the state and the sheriffs and the chiefs of police associations and sent letters not to growers but to the pot stores that said, 'This is not legal under state law.'" he says.
"We thought that was our measured way to let people know. We didn't raid anything. We didn't shut anything down. I called folks I know in the medical marijuana community. I met with them a couple different times to tell them what we were doing and why we were doing it. I tried very much to have an open dialog with them. We sent letters directly to people who were selling marijuana, or people we were concerned were selling marijuana that was not legal under state law."
But many of the activists and Rosenblum claim that these letters were a form of intimidation to scare pot growers who were following state law. "I understand that he sent threatening letters to the places that some call medical marijuana dispensaries—some say clinics, collectives—putting a real chilling effect on those who were trying to follow the law and trying to obtain safe access to their medical marijuana to which they're entitled under the law," Rosenblum says.
The second instance is a series of search warrants executed by federal law enforcement officers against marijuana growers in the state, all of which occurred over a relatively short period of time last fall. Holton describes it as "people running a multi-million dollar drug trafficking organization pretending to be working under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act." He adds, "Let me cut to the chase here. During my tenure, at no time has federal law enforcement prosecuted anyone who was in compliance with state law in Oregon. You can ask them to name one person who was prosecuted who was in compliance with state law. They can't come up with a single person."
There are many who do claim these growers were operating under state law, including the growers themselves (most of the cases have yet to be tried in court). Keith Rogers, an owner of one of the raided properties, told an AP reporter in September that he'd checked with all 20 people permitted to grow medical marijuana on his property to ensure they complied with state law. He claimed that if state authorities had done "a search of us and our papers, they would have happily drove off and did nothing. It was strictly the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration."
Corrected 5/15/12: An earlier version of this story misidentified Ankylosing Spondylitis as a form of rheumatoid arthritis.