THE BLOG
10/24/2014 08:58 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Oregon Anti-Pot Campaign Head Used Gov't Job to Enrich Anti-Pot Crusader

The head of the No on Measure 91 Campaign to defeat marijuana legalization in Oregon is a woman named Mandi Puckett. She works at BestCare Prevention Services in Jefferson County, Oregon.  She's on a leave of absence from BestCare to run the anti-pot campaign, where her strategy is hosting press conferences to frighten moms about marijuana edibles and mailing postcards with enough reefer madness per square inch to make the ghost of Harry J. Anslinger say, "hold up, lady; you'll want to dial that back a bit."

I've been digging into the public records for the summer of 2014 from all the public officials involved in Kevin Sabet's Oregon Marijuana "Education" Tour."  The tour was intentionally timed in 2012 and 2014 to sway votes against marijuana legalization as ballots were mailed out for Oregon's last two initiatives; there were no tours in 2011 and 2013, despite claims from organizers that these were "annual education events." Sabet was set to make over $39,000 in thirteen cities before exposure of their use of public drug educational grant funds forced half the tour to cancel.  Sabet only made out with at least $21,000 after that.

Now I have emails from the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) that show the turmoil within the bureaucracy this August once their public grant money shenanigans were exposed.  To their credit, people at the top like BestCare's CEO Rick Treleaven, OHA Addictions & Mental Health director Pamela Martin, and OHA Addictions Program Manager Karen Wheeler recognized the clearly political nature of these events and ordered their subordinates to reschedule the so-called educational events until after the election.

But Mandi Puckett at BestCare, prior to leaving for the No on 91 campaign, was already recruited by Kevin Sabet's Project SAM, the national anti-pot-legalization group.  Sabet had a new acolyte in Puckett, a mom who'd be a good public face for an Oregon affiliate of his anti-pot project.  No way was she going to give up on the Oregon Marijuana "Education" Tour, even as her bosses told her to reschedule it to after the election.

July 10:  Puckett is excited to tell her co-workers that she'll be attending and presenting at the Project SAM Bootcamp in Orlando, Florida.  The training was held on July 20, with an evening of "socializing" the night before.  (The event is specifically scheduled to coincide with Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America (CADCA) Mid-Year Training in Orlando, July 20-24, though there is no indication Puckett attended that training, which includes training on how to secure the kind of grant money originally planned to pay Sabet without running afoul of election laws.)

This is right in the middle of the timeline I've established in earlier posts where Puckett and others were working to produce, promote, and fund the Kevin Sabet Tour that was planned to earn him $39,000.  We're supposed to believe Puckett was planning a completely non-political educational tour on marijuana starring Kevin Sabet just a couple weeks before ballots are mailed out for legalization, while she was acting as the Oregon director of an affiliate of the anti-legalization Project SAM that Kevin Sabet heads!

July 15:  Jeff Ruscoe is Mandi Puckett's "Prevention Team Lead".  Apparently he and two others, Nicole Corbin and Jill Dale at OHA, were planning a "Brown Bag Discussion" for July 23 to read and discuss Measure 91 (then "Initiative Petition 53").  They wanted to use one of the state conference rooms for the meeting and sought the approval of Addictions & Mental Health (AMH) Director Pamela Martin.

Martin, to her credit, put the kibosh on the meeting from the very start.  "I understand the interest in the topic," wrote Martin to Ruscoe, Corbin, & Dale, "but AMH/OHA cannot address any topic that is part of the electoral process. I know that for AMH, this topic is of interest because of the prevention and treatment aspects, but we need to wait. There will be many opportunities for discussion in a couple of months."  (Emphasis mine.)

I find no evidence that Ruscoe did or did not communicate to Puckett about this directive from Martin forbidding any addressing of marijuana around election time.  If he did, she clearly violated that directive in planning the tour.  If he did not, he did a lousy job of managing his prevention team to follow his boss's directive.

August 12:  Puckett is still working to promote and plan the Kevin Sabet Tour when an email goes out from Ruscoe to the county drug prevention staff.  "[T]he 2013-14 Prevention Annual Reports are due," Ruscoe writes on a Tuesday, "at the close of business on Friday, August 15, 2014."  Puckett replies that it is her understanding that she does not have to turn in this report "because of our tri-county regionalization plan."

Ruscoe replies to Puckett that "All counties/tribes have to submit reports on what they are spending their funds on."  Puckett then replies to both Ruscoe and Jessica Jacks, a colleague, asking "I haven't done one of these in years (because I was told not to), now we have to? Is that your understanding?"

Ruscoe directly refutes Puckett's claim, replying "You submitted annual reports in both 2011-12 and 2012-13!"  Ruscoe further explained, "These are contractual requirements, so despite the legislative mandate on your planning for the three counties, you still must report on how the funds were spent and how you have progressed on implementing your plans."  For good measure, two minutes later, he emailed attachments of the Prevention Annual Reports she submitted for 2011-2012 and 2012-2013.  Puckett crows in that latter document that it was "highly successful and informative" to pay for the 2012 Kevin Sabet Tour.  You won't find any mention of a 2011 Kevin Sabet Tour in the former document.

My records request covered Oregon Health Authority records containing the words "marijuana", "Sabet", "Marquis", "Summit", or "Madras".  It spans up through September 16, 2014.  The latest reply to Ruscoe's call for Prevention Annual Reports came on September 11 from a Benton County prevention official who had been on maternity leave.  If Puckett ever did turn in that Prevention Annual Report for 2013-2014, it did not turn up in my records request or she submitted it at least a month after its deadline.  Maybe she left it in Orlando?

August 21:  The day the proverbial excrement struck the oscillating wind machine.  News of the impending Oregon Marijuana "Education" Tour hits The Oregonian, our state's largest newspaper, with the Yes on Measure 91 campaign complaining that the tour smacks of electioneering on the public dime, a clear violation of Oregon's strict election laws.  Rick Treleaven, the BestCare CEO and Puckett's boss, tells the paper he's pulling BestCare's $15,000 in grant money for the first stop on the Tour, because he "could see from an outside perspective that it could look like a conflict."

But Treleaven had also sent an email directly to Mandi Puckett first thing that morning.  "You have to realize that this does not look good and you have set this up to be in the middle of a culture war/ballot initiative," Treleaven told Puckett.  "I will not have BestCare in that spot, it is a clear diversion from our mission. We need to reschedule the whole thing until after the vote ballot initiative."

Treleaven, whose mission is to help the community through drug prevention and treatment efforts, clearly doesn't think Kevin Sabet contributes much to the mission.  "If big names fall through, then big names fall through," he tells Puckett, "but at least it will be closer to an authentic discussion about prevention as it relates to Jefferson County."

So there you have it.  Mandi Puckett, the current head of the No on Measure 91 campaign, was Kevin Sabet's recruit in Oregon, attended Kevin Sabet's anti-legalization strategy seminar in Orlando (I don't know who bought the plane tickets and hotel room and meals), planned a tour starring Kevin Sabet where he'd make $39,000 in money from public grants, continued planning that tour after her boss was told by her boss's boss not to "educate" until after the election, kept planning the tour even as she was failing to turn in spending reports for her government drug prevention job, and went ahead planning a shorter version of the tour to pay Kevin Sabet $21,000 with private money raised by the Oregon State Sheriffs' Association and county district attorneys, who raised money from their government offices using government phones and government emails by soliticing other district attorneys for donations during work hours, even after the CEO of her workplace told her to reschedule the whole thing until after the vote.

That, dear readers, is your tax dollars at work to provide meaningful education on marijuana to the public.