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Fined for honesty

The Oregon secretary of state's elections division says Medford's police chief and former chief crossed a line when they commented on a medical marijuana ballot measure last year. We disagree.

The state fined Chief Tim George and his predecessor, retired Chief Randy Schoen, $75 for violating a state law that prohibits public employees from campaigning for or against candidates or ballot measures while on the job. Two other law enforcement officers — a Medford deputy chief and an Oregon State Police sergeant — were issued warnings but not fined.

What Schoen and George did was answer truthfully when a Mail Tribune reporter asked them what effect Ballot Measure 74 would have on police agencies trying to enforce laws against recreational use of marijuana while abiding by the state's medical marijuana statute, which permits qualified residents to possess and use marijuana therapeutically.

Neither Schoen nor George attempted to tell anyone how they should vote on Measure 74.

Marijuana advocate Laird Funk, of Williams, filed complaints against the four officers the day after their comments appeared in a Mail Tribune article. Funk also filed complaints against a Grants Pass police detective and the Brookings police chief for comments they made to news reporters.

Funk called the $75 fines "laughable" punishment for what he characterized as "corrupting an election."

If the offense really was "corrupting an election," we would agree that a $75 fine is ridiculous. But try as we might, we can't see any corruption.

Ballot measures are often complicated pieces of legislation written by activists. They are not subject to public hearings or amendments before they are put before voters.

Complex measures are difficult enough for voters to evaluate without muzzling those who can discuss them intelligently and describe the actual consequences. In the case of medical marijuana, police are the ones working with the law every day, and are in the best position to talk about potential changes.

In many ways, Oregon's medical marijuana law is a victim of its own success. Backers of the original proposal went out of their way to make it as unthreatening as possible: Sick people would obtain marijuana from "caregivers" who would grow it for them. No money would change hands.

That would be a great system — if the medicine wasn't a popular recreational drug that is illegal and therefore extremely valuable. Because it is, the system will inevitably be exploited by those who are more interested in profit than pain relief.

If corruption is the concern, look no further.