Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum says her position on medical marijuana, which became a hot-button issue in the May primary, has been mischaracterized and blown out of proportion.
"It wasn't my issue, I hope you know that," Rosenblum said in an interview Monday with the Mail Tribune. She noted it came up during an early debate at the Eugene City Club between her and her opponent, fellow Democrat Dwight Holton, when the question was asked about medical marijuana.
"(Holton) answered first, and his answer was, you know, 'The law's a train wreck' ... and there were people in the audience who were really apparently upset by his answer," Rosenblum said.
Medical marijuana advocates, as well as advocates for the legalization of the drug, rallied behind Rosenblum's candidacy and against Holton, the former U.S. attorney for the state of Oregon who oversaw several high profile raids on marijuana growing operations.
"So they saw that as being consistent with their fears about him," she said.
Rosenblum said her response was more favorable — and she said Monday she agrees with the state's medical marijuana law — but she never intended it to be a cornerstone of her campaign.
"My answer was, look, I've been a lawyer, prosecutor, judge in Oregon for 36 years. This law has been in effect for 14 years," she said. "It's kind in an adolescent phase, kind of a bumpy ride, but I don't see it as a train wreck."
Following her primary win, Rosenblum was appointed interim attorney general by Gov. John Kitzhaber on June 29. She follows John Kroger, who stepped down to become president of Reed College in Portland. A former state Court of Appeals judge, Rosenblum now leads the Oregon Department of Justice and its 1,300 employees, including 300 lawyers.
While she was appointed to fill out Kroger's term, she still faces a November election against Portland attorney James Buchal, who won a write-in campaign in the Republican primary.
Her visit to Southern Oregon on Monday included a meeting with retired teachers involved with the Oregon Education Association, a luncheon with outgoing and incoming county district attorneys Mark Huddleston and Beth Heckert, a television interview and an event with local community members and lawyers.
She also planned to visit local Department of Justice Child Support and Child Advocacy Services branches in Medford.
"The two offices we have here (in Medford) relate specifically to those issues that I care most about, which are advocating for and protecting our most vulnerable citizens, which obviously include kids and families and seniors," she said.
Rosenblum, who has garnered endorsements from both medical marijuana advocates and marijuana legalization supporters, said she hopes to find ways to clarify the law, which has come under fire from law enforcement officers and others.
"I do think that there's a lack of clarity in the law, and it isn't really clear how people are supposed to get access, and that has probably caused part of the problem," she said.
She said she is scheduled to meet with state Rep. Andy Olson, R-Albany, who has worked with other Republican legislators on the issue.
In the Monday interview, Rosenblum also said she plans to be involved in discussions about sentencing reform, saying the current system is unsustainable.
"Is there another way we can keep the community safe and spend less?" she asked.
She said she was not a critic of the voter-imposed Measure 11, which set mandatory-minimum sentences for serious felony convictions. But, she said, the state should consider its options.
"Here's how I look at Measure 11: It's not a sacred cow, it should not be out there, off limits."
She noted that as a judge she sentenced "possibly thousands" of people under Measure 11 rules and did not try to impose sentences that ran counter to the measure's requirements.
"I'm certainly not ready to throw out Measure 11," she said. " ... I also see how expensive it's been."
Rosenblum also said:
- She would consider making the Department of Justice's Child Advocacy Section a separate division to give it more visibility and self-direction. Currently, the agency is part of the Civil Enforcement Division.
- She would hire a Spanish-speaking public information officer to help safeguard Spanish-speaking Oregonians from fraud. "People, immigrants, tend to be very vulnerable to fraud," she said.
- She would work more closely with counties, such as Josephine County, which find themselves unable to provide adequate law enforcement and prosecution.
- She would focus on ways to curb fraud against seniors and elder abuse. She noted that 80 percent of complaints at her office come from seniors.
"The office has not been so focused on the elder abuse issue as I'd like it to be," Rosenblum said.
Nick Morgan is a news aide with the Mail Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-776-4477.