National Drug Office Claims Immunity in Campaign 

National Drug Office Claims Immunity in Campaign 
Posted by CN Staff on April 04, 2005 at 17:02:36 PT
By Bob Anez, Associated Press 
Source: Associated Press
Helena, Montana -- The national drug czar's office has claimed immunity from a complaint asserting the agency and one of its officials violated Montana's campaign finance laws last year. The Marijuana Policy Project claimed the czar's office should have reported how much it spent to fight a Montana ballot measure legalizing marijuana for medical use.
In a letter to state Political Practices Commissioner Gordon Higgins, a lawyer for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said the deputy director's visit to Montana last year and his comments against the initiative were part of his official duties, and he does not have to obey state campaign laws. "As a result, Deputy Director (Scott) Burns and the Office of National Drug Control Policy respectfully decline to respond to the complaint ...," wrote Edward Jurith, general counsel for the agency. Higgins could not be reached for comment Monday. The complaint was filed with Higgins' office in late February by the Marijuana Policy Project, the national organization that successfully promoted Initiative 148. It passed with 62 percent of the vote. The group said that Burns and his federal office failed to comply with campaign finance laws by not reporting what was spent on Burns' visit to Montana last October when he voiced opposition to the measure. Steve Fox, spokesman for the national marijuana group, chastised the federal agency's response. "The drug czar's office has moved from ignoring the law to actively defying it," he said. "Claims that Burns was just doing his job by speaking out about the dangers of marijuana are absurd and insulting. He campaigned against I-148 overtly and energetically, most likely spending many thousands of dollars of the taxpayers' money in the process." The organization filed similar complaints in Montana, Alaska and Oregon at the same time. Higgins wrote to Burns in March, asking for information about his official responsibilities that would be the basis for any claim of immunity. He said the response would help determine whether he has jurisdiction over the alleged violations in the complaint. Jurith said Burns is not subject to Montana's election laws because he was a "federal official acting within the scope of duties, including speaking about the dangers of illegal drugs, delegated to him and the Office of National Drug Control Policy by the president and Congress." The same complaint was filed in Nevada two years ago against John Walters, then the director of the office, after he campaigned in that state against a ballot measure to legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana by adults. Nevada officials later decided against taking action, raising the same objections contained in Jurith's letter to Higgins.Complete Title: National Drug Office Claims Immunity in Campaign Finance Case.Source: Associated Press (Wire)Author: Bob Anez, Associated Press Published: April 4, 2005Copyright: 2005 The Associated Press Marijuana Policy Project Medical Marijuana Archives
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