MADRAS, Ore. - What was meant to be an educational conference on marijuana, alcohol and other drugs in Madras in turning into a big controversy -- - but a big donation from the state's sheriffs is keeping the almost-scrubbed plans moving forward.
A week after BestCare Treatment, a non-profit that runs treatment and prevention for Jefferson County, pulled its sponsorship for the event, the Oregon State Sheriff's Association announced it would donate $10,000, in addition to the already pledged $5,000.
"The Oregon State Sheriff's Association stepped up and basically saved the day and has provided a total of $15,000 to get this summit going," Sheriff Jim Adkins said Tuesday.
An influx of cash as Jefferson County DA Steve Leriche scrambled to raise money for the event in the wake of BestCare's pull-out.
"Our mission is not political, and so once it became politicized, we needed to pull out and not be involved," said Rick Treleaven, executive director at BestCare Treatment.
BestCare originally planned to use $15,000 in federal dollars to put on the Oct. 1 event, which is identical to ones it held in the past, and others planned around the state.
"We had not anticipated that holding the same thing a year later, during the initiative process and the election, would cause such an uproar," Treleaven said.
The use of federal dollars is what had supporters of a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana in uproar. Under federal law, no taxpayer money can be used to influence voters during an election.
"Calling this an education event is preposterous," said Peter Zuckerman, communications director at Yes On 91. "It's being put on by the leading opponents of sensible drug policies, days before people are slated to start voting."
The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office sees the event as completely separate from Measure 91, which aims to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Oregon.
"The conference has nothing to do with yes or no on (Measure) 91," said Adkins.
While BestCare has not taken a stand on the measure, both Leriche and the sheriff's office are strong opponents of Measure 91.
"Making it legal is not going to solve our problems," Adkins said.
Now that money from the sheriff's association is being used instead of taxpayer money, the event is back on track.
Yes On 91 supporters say they support education on drugs, but they want it in a fair and balanced setting.
"Drug education is incredibly important -- so important that one of the things our measure will do is generate millions of dollars for education and drug treatment and drug prevention," Zuckerman said.