Jonathan Bach, Statesman JournalPublished 4:29 p.m. PT Nov. 8, 2017 | Updated 4:39 p.m. PT Nov. 8, 2017
Oregon's leading marijuana advocate in Congress, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, has formed a political action committee aimed at unseating anti-marijuana lawmakers.
The Portland Democrat's Cannabis Fund is one in a growing suite of similar committees paying to promote weed-friendly candidates and policies. Pot committees raised at least $177,840 in the 2015-16 election cycle, Federal Election Commission records show.
Some of the biggest names during the cycle included the National Cannabis Industry Association ($104,066), the Marijuana Policy Project ($47,140) and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws ($26,634.11).
The new Cannabis Fund had a meager $2,000 in contributions as of June — the last time it reported financial moves — but Blumenauer already has plans for where to direct the money.
At a Portland pot conference in October, Blumenauer said his "first target" is Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas.
Contention between the two lawmakers traces back to at least July, when Sessions helped block a vote on one of Blumenauer's amendments to ease restrictions for veterans trying to get ahold of medical marijuana through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Marijuana is still federally illegal.
In September, Sessions, who chairs the House Rules Committee, helped block the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which would have stopped the Justice Department from using federal funds to prosecute medical marijuana users in states where the use is legal.
The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment was also named for Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. In February, the two congressmen, along with Reps. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Don Young, R-Ala., started the first Congressional Cannabis Caucus, marking a new era for bipartisan marijuana support on Capitol Hill.
But they still faced resistance.
Blumenauer said, "We’re going to be putting up some billboards in Pete Sessions’ district … It's going to feature a veteran and ask the question why Pete Sessions doesn’t want him to have access to his medicine."
"We’re going to make the point that there are consequences," he said later. "This is not a free vote."
Russ Belville, who produces a marijuana podcast in Portland, first reported the speech in a video posted to social media.
Blumenauer said in a statement to the Statesman Journal: "The American people overwhelming support cannabis reform, and we have more support than ever in Congress. I launched the Cannabis Fund to keep up this momentum.
"I want to see even more pro-cannabis candidates elected to Congress and continue the wave of reforms happening at the state level. And we want to make clear that there are consequences for those elected officials opposing what a majority of the public supports," he said.
Sessions told the Statesman Journal in a statement, “The merchants of addiction are attempting to influence our work and it’s my hope that we will see this problem as a national crisis."
Sessions has long been anti-legalization and will do all he can to protect families from America's drug crisis, Caroline Boothe, a spokeswoman for Sessions, said in an email.
"While he is always open to listening about new developments, especially when it comes to helping our nation’s veterans, he will not compromise the safety of our communities," Boothe said.
The billboard war is heating up in Texas as anti-pot group Smart Approaches to Marijuana Action launched its own digital board, along U.S. Route 75 close to Sessions' district office in Dallas, to support the congressman's stance.
The billboard shows Amanda, a Texas mother cradling a baby who says, "Thanks, Congressman Sessions for protecting my family against marijuana legalization."
Kevin Sabet, the group's president, said in a statement, "The marijuana industry, egged on by a politician from Portland, Oregon who is bankrolled by the pot lobby, has decided to target Congressman Sessions for championing his constituents health and safety."
"The pot lobby can't stand having someone standing up to their addiction-for-profit tactics," Sabet said. "But his constituents know better, and our billboard reflects their gratitude."