Oregon officials are casting a wider net over allegations that law enforcement officers statewide violated election laws when they discussed Measure 74, the medical marijuana initiative.
On Friday, Sgt. Erik Fisher of the Oregon State Police drug-enforcement section became part of a Secretary of State investigation based on a complaint filed by Williams resident Laird Funk. He specifically cited comments made by Fisher in articles in the Mail Tribune and Eugene Register-Guard.
Previously, a complaint had been filed against Medford Police Chief Randy Schoen, Medford Assistant Chief Tim George and Medford Lt. Tim Doney. In all, nine Oregon police officers have been accused of campaigning against the measure.
Others on the complaint list received by the Secretary of State's office include police chiefs in Gold Beach, Brookings and Keizer, the Deschutes County sheriff and a police detective in Grants Pass.
The law enforcement officials are alleged to have violated Oregon Revised Statute 260.432, which excludes public officials from promoting or opposing any measure or candidate as part of their official duties. The penalty for violating the statute is $75.
Police officers across the state have expressed concern that Measure 74 would add to the enforcement issues they already face with the state's medical marijuana program, including issues about who is entitled to possess the drug, how much can legally be possessed and responding to complaints from neighbors of growers. Measure 74 would create dispensaries and would add dispensary workers to the list of people who are allowed to possess, but not necessarily use, marijuana.
One of the reported comments made by the OSP's Fisher that is under investigation ran in the Mail Tribune on Oct. 7:
"I suspect that locally the price will go down, and we will quickly become the source for the illegal marijuana trade throughout the country ... . It certainly puts the OSP in a pickle. I think it's going to be a mess."
Carla Corbin, compliance specialist with the Secretary of State, said Fisher denied to one of her staff members that he made the statement. He said his actual comments could be viewed on a webcast, referring to his appearance on a forum about marijuana initiatives in Oregon and California sponsored by Jefferson Public Radio and the Mail Tribune.
However, the comments in question were not from the forum, but from an earlier interview for a separate story published in the Mail Tribune.
Corbin said Fisher hasn't yet responded regarding a different quote reported in the Register-Guard on Oct. 16:
"This situation is going to be about who's making the money and less about the patient ... You don't have to have a medical condition to be a producer or operate a dispensary. You just decide you want to get into the marijuana business."
Fisher could not be reached for comment on the allegations Friday. He has until Nov. 15 to submit information in response to a Secretary of State's letter sent Friday.
During an interview with the Mail Tribune, Fisher made it clear he wasn't taking a position on Measure 74, but expressed his views about the ramifications for law enforcement officers if the measure passed.
At the public forum on Oct. 7, Fisher and George of the Medford Police Department both said Measure 74 would make enforcement more difficult if the measure passed.
Funk, who filed the complaint against Fisher and others, said the officers can speak about Measure 74 but not advocate or oppose them. He thinks they went over the line in their comments about Measure 74.
"I didn't set out to make it hard on these guys," said Funk, who is on the advisory council of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program. "But they can't give you any information other than what is factual and impartial."
Medford Police Chief Schoen has previously said Funk is a vocal critic of police and their stance on marijuana.
He said he stands behind everything he has said on marijuana. Schoen said he has never told anybody how to vote on the measure, but merely has expressed his concerns and discussed the issues that surround marijuana.