Double billboard

This billboard on Washington Avenue shares side-by-side political advertisements that were paid for by AmeriCanna, a political action committee working with local grassroots group MalheurCAN! To promote lifting the ban on retail sales of marijuana in Ontario.

ONTARIO — A local grassroots group that initially formed to start a petition lifting the City of Ontario’s ban on recreational sales of marijuana, as well as licensing for establishments to do so, is distancing itself from one of its members who has formed a political action committee with an identical name as the petitioning group.

Jahmel Cooke, who served as one of the chief petitioners of the formation of MalheurCAN! as a petition committee with the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office, filed a political action committee under the same name; which was effective beginning Monday.

“I wanted to make sure everything is good with the ballot measure,” Cooke said over the phone with the Argus explaining the reasoning for launching the PAC. “I wanted to protect the petition, because we’re not really sure how this goes.”

Cooke is referencing Measure 23-61, which will be on the General Election ballot, when Ontario city residents will decide the fate of a ban on the sales of marijuana.

He said, he was told by an official in the Election Office that it was the next step required in the process, in order to  protect those individuals listed on the petition committee. Groups and individuals involved in ballot measure campaigns in Oregon must adhere to the state's campaign finance laws. 

Before the grassroots group gathered enough signatures to place the initiative petition on the ballot earlier this year, Cooke did attempt previously to file a political action committee, in August. The initiative petition was not yet on the ballot, and therefore he was unable to form a PAC at that time.

As of Tuesday, Cooke said he had no ideas about what he was seeking to do with the newly formed political action committee.

The committees are typically used for gathering donations and spending political dollars, according to Jim Forrester, organizer for the grassroots group which has been working closely with AmeriCanna, another PAC.

According to Forrester, Cooke’s filing of the PAC with the secretary of state was done without prior approval from the MalheurCAN! group.

Still, there are no legal issues with Cooke creating the committee using the same name, as Cooke was one of the chief petitioners in the creation of the MalheurCAN! petition committee.

Up to this point, MalheurCAN! has been cooperating with AmeriCanna for promotion of the marijuana ballot measure. For this reason, the grassroots group has not created a political action committee up to this point, Forrester said.

And passage of the measure on Nov. 6 has been the entire goal of the grassroots group, Forrester confirmed.

“That has always been the goal,” he said.

The partnership with AmeriCanna has resulted in a billboard — paid for by AmeriCanna — urging a yes vote on Measure 23-61, as well as supporting a yes vote for a rec district in Ontario.

AmeriCanna came to the grassroots group with the idea of sharing billboard space with another measure the group supported. MalheurCAN! landed on a new recreation district.

“A lot of us are parents, and we wanted to endorse the rec. district,” Forrester said. “It’s an important measure that we think people need to say ‘yes’ on.”

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