Despite a strong political network behind him, former acting Oregon U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton lost handily this week in the Democratic primary for the state’s attorney general post — and it may be due to a recent spate of “reefer madness.”
Holton is the son of former Virginia Gov. Linwood Holton and the brother-in-law of former Virginia governor, Democratic National Committee chairman and current U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine. He lost the race this week to former state judge Ellen Rosenblum, who netted 63 percent of the vote compared with Holton’s 37 percent.
Despite a fundraising lead and support from the state’s law enforcement leaders, Holton could not overcome the debate of the day: medical marijuana. Indeed, “a pungent whiff of weed enveloped the Rosenblum campaign in the race’s closing days,” wrote Jeff Manning of The Oregonian. Marijuana legalization supporters gave almost $200,000 to Rosenblum’s campaign in May, which composed nearly a third of her fundraising total, notes The Oregonian.
After Holton went on record calling the states’s medical marijuana law a “train wreck,” the pro-marijuana contingent mobilized and united behind Rosenblum. The former judge and lawyer told voters she would make marijuana enforcement a “low priority,” in addition to promising to protect the rights of medical marijuana users. Holton was also hurt by his previous efforts to prosecute medical marijuana clubs and other operations he deemed fronts for illegal marijuana sales, according to reports.
Oregon is one of 16 states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. These state laws conflict with federal laws making marijuana distribution a crime. Attorney General Eric Holder said in 2009 the Justice Department would not make prosecution of medicinal marijuana users or their caregivers who are complying with state laws a priority. But since then, U.S. Attorney’s offices in the West — including in Oregon under Holton – have aggressively warned states against allowing large-scale medical marijuana distribution, sparking controversy.
Some advocates of tough drug laws see medical marijuana as a first step toward legalization of pot.
Holton started his prosecuting career in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York. He moved to the Portland U.S. Attorney’s office in 2004. He worked on the Michael Dukakis presidential campaign in 1988 and served in the President Bill Clinton administration, with many of his fundraisers counted among prominent Beltway Democrats, according to a report in The Oregonian. Holton, after serving as interim U.S. Attorney for almost two years, put his name in for consideration for the permanent position, but he was not chosen as one of three final candidates. Amanda Marshall was confirmed by the full Senate last September to fill the vacancy.