Jefferson County District Attorney Steven Leriche was a big step closer to rescuing a shelved drug and alcohol education summit in Madras on Monday after a $10,000 donation from the Oregon State Sheriff's Association.
Leriche said in a news release that the group's president, Gary Bettencourt, made the commitment to Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Adkins Monday afternoon.
The DA said he was "very proud and appreciative" of the association, Adkins "and the people of Jefferson County for their support" of the planned Marijuana. Alcohol and Other Drugs Summit, planned for Oct. 1 despite the sponsorship withdrawal of BestCare Treatment Services.
"We still have fundraising to do, but it is amazing the amount of money acquired in a few days," Leriche said. "It is very rewarding to see that Jefferson County will be allowed to have free and forthright conversations about substance abuse in our community and others will not be allowed to dictate their agenda upon us."
On Friday afternoon, Leriche had issued a news release stating that "the Oregon Marijuana, Alcohol and Other Drugs Summit, an educational event that has been planned for over one year, will proceed as scheduled despite the last minute withdrawal of BestCare, the organization that provides drug prevention, education and treatment services to Jefferson County, and staff from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission."
The DA said BestCare had committed to provide a $15,000 grant to reimburse the travel expenses of national experts like former White House drug official Dr. Kevin Sabet, while OLCC was to provide staff for the event.
Leriche called the summit “a much needed public education opportunity.”
The Oregonian reported that sponsors of this fall's marijuana legalization initiative, Measure 91, claimed it was wrong for summit organizers to use federal money to help pay for an appearance by Kevin Sabet, a former White House drug adviser who formed a group opposing marijuana legalization.
Rick Treleaven, the executive director BestCare Treatment Practices, told the paper he decided to cancel the summit because "he could see from an outside perspective that it could look like a conflict."
Leriche said in his news release, "It's very odd that the big out-of-state money interests who just bought over $2 million of TV ads to promote legalized marijuana and a measure that would also decriminalize smuggling marijuana into jails and prisons, seem compelled to shut down our small-town educational forum."
He said the summit materials indicate that the goal of the summit is to educate the public about the impact of marijuana, alcohol and other drugs on youth in Oregon.
A representative of the OLCC (the organization which would license recreational marijuana sales if Measure 91 passes in November) announced that their staff would not appear as planned via an email.
Leriche quoted their message to event organizers, which said, "wanted to let you know that due to politics, OLCC will most likely not be participating in the summit other than as audience members."
Leriche said he finds OLCC’s withdrawal to be particularly ironic, considering the Oregon Health Authority manager is a headliner in a "Cannabis Business Conference" that is being sponsored by big marijuana trade groups in Portland.
The DA said the summit was planned long before marijuana legalization advocates spent hundreds of thousands of dollars getting the necessary signatures to make the November ballot.
And Leriche said that organizers, most of whom are ethically bound not to support or oppose any political measure, "have gone to great lengths to ensure that the Madras summit and a series of other educational forums planned between Oct. 1-8 in other Oregon communities including La Grande, Eugene, Grants Pass and Warrenton, are non-political forums that offer information, not advocacy."
Although the Oregon State Sheriff's Association and Oregon District Attorneys Association have come out opposing Measure 91, millions of out-of-state dollars are pouring in to pro-pot advertising, he said.
Elected officials are allowed by state elections and ethics rules to express political opinions during work hours. "But that's not our role at these forums," Leriche said. “We are there as local elected officials to answer factual questions about the law, both in the present and in the possible future."
"Someone with a lot of influence doesn’t want Oregonians hearing what Dr. Sabet has to say," Leriche said."But if we have to hold car washes and bake sales, the Summit is going forward as scheduled on October 1, 2014. The public should hear the true impact of the use of intoxicants on individuals and society as a whole.”
Leriche said over $2,000 of funding had been pledged as of Friday morning to support the Summit, a number that rose to $3,000 Monday before the major donation. Anyone wishing to was asked to send donations to: Faith Based Network, P.O . Box 707, Madras, OR 97741
Leriche also told NewsChannel 21 on Saturday that Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Adkins and Pastor Jim Leach of the Living Hope Church, which will host the summit, "are partnering to organize and fund-raise, and we share the same sentiment about this circumstance."
He said he's begun reviewing the summit's cost information and it appears initially that $15,000 is to cover the costs of about eight speakers, including Sabet.
Even if the event proceeds with other funding, Treleaven told NewsChannel 21 on Saturday that "no BestCare staff will be involved" in it.
"The education summit will be viewed through a political lens until after the election," he wrote. "BestCare has not taken a position on legalization and I think to do so would be a diversion from our mission.
"So long as either side of the debate views the summit as trying to influence the election, no matter how far that was from the reality on the ground, we need to back off. The mission of prevention needs to stay in focus, regardless of the legal status of marijuana."