Both Holton and Rosenblum seem surprised that marijuana has become a focus in the race. "This wasn't exactly our major issue in the campaign," says Rosenblum, who has spent much more of her campaign claiming Holton lacks a deep connection to Oregon. "But I guess it's kind of become one." At 61, Rosenblum is a former Oregon Court of Appeals judge. She's lived in Oregon for several decades and graduated from the University of Oregon, where she obtained both her B.S. and law degree. In addition to her stint as a judge, she also served as an Assistant United States Attorney in Oregon.
Still, Holton has taken to attacking Rosenblum for comments she has made that, if elected, she would consider enforcement of marijuana laws "low priority." "The thing that I find kind of shocking is that Ellen would go to a special interest group, any special interest group, and say, 'I'm not going to enforce the laws that regulate you,' and then raise money off it, which is exactly what she's done with marijuana legalization advocates," Holton says. "I think it is incredible that a person could put a 30-year legal career on the line by running for a state's highest law enforcement office by promising not to enforce the law."
Nick Kahl, a former member of the Oregon state legislature and a Holton supporter, echoed these sentiments. "Ellen has said publicly that she will not enforce the law against those people who choose to run afoul of the marijuana laws," he says. "That's a huge concern for me ... For her to come out and pander to the pro-marijuana legalization advocates, I feel like it's out of line."
Rosenblum defends her comments, saying it is a question of resources and priorities. "I think that the attorney generals and DAs and anyone else in leadership positions in government have to set priorities for the department that's under their watch," she says. "That's what I meant by that."
Holton insists that the opposition from the activists is a "non-issue" and that Rosenblum is using it to raise money from national groups that support legalization of marijuana. And she does have support from such groups. Earlier this week, Drug Policy Action, the advocacy and political arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, a group in favor of reforming the nation's drug laws, announced a contribution of $70,000.
If Holton loses on Tuesday, it won't be the first time marijuana activists will claim they were able to tip the scales of an election. In 2010, activists ran ads against Steve Cooley, a Los Angeles District Attorney they considered hostile to medical marijuana dispensaries, when he ran for attorney general of California. He lost by a slim margin, and activists think it was their ads that cost him the election.
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Corrected 5/15/12: An earlier version of this story misidentified Ankylosing Spondylitis as a form of rheumatoid arthritis.