A little something in the pot for Ehrlich



The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws doles out campaign cash to friendly politicians. Like Rep. Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat. And Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the Ohio vegan. Here in Maryland, it's Robert Ehrlich. Surprised? You shouldn't be, says Allen St. Pierre, NORML'S "head head."

The group's PAC hasn't given money to many Republicans, and it has never before donated to a sitting governor. But as a congressman and later as governor, Ehrlich has been ?one of the clearest politicians in the country supporting physician-approved access to medical marijuana," St. Pierre says. "I think that speaks a little bit to his libertarian streak."

An organization that puts Willie Nelson's mug at the top of its Web site and sells American flag posters with cannabis-leaf stars, NORML is pushing for more than medical marijuana. It wants the drug legalized outright. Ehrlich has given no indication that he's on board with that, St. Pierre says. Campaign spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver declines to comment beyond saying, "We certainly appreciate NORML's support of Governor Ehrlich's position on medical marijuana."

Over the objections of the White House drug czar, Ehrlich signed a bill three years ago that reduced penalties for people who use marijuana for medicinal purposes. That made him the second governor in the nation, and the first Republican, to sign medical marijuana legislation. It also endeared him to NORML,which intends to give Ehrlich $1,250 over the course of the campaign, St. Pierre says. So far, two $250 donations have shown up in campaign finance reports.

What about the other guy in the governor's race? St. Pierre says the group has just drafted a letter to Mayor Martin O'Malley seeking his stance on the issue. It seems like he would be as progressive as Ehrlich is,? St. Pierre says, but acknowledges basing that assumption on the mayor?s membership in a rock band. ("The mayor supports the state law," spokesman Rick Abbruzzese says.)

If NORML likes what O?Malley has to say, the group will write him a check, too, St. Pierre says. It's not uncommon for some PACs to support rivals, but this one isn't used to having so many friends in high places.

"In 36 years here," St. Pierre says, "it's pretty rare we get both sides."

Connecting the dots ... U.S. Senate candidate Mike Schaefer lost several hours on the campaign trail last week because he was in Central Booking, charged with violating a peace order.The misdemeanor charge stems from what sounds like one heck of a landlord-tenant dispute, with Schaefer on the landlord half. Schaefer, a Baltimorean who is no relation toWilliam Donald Schaefer, said the experience gave him insight into jailhouse issues ? ?things like access to toilets.?... Lieutenant governor hopeful Anthony Brownturned heads yesterday on a tour of a shopping mall in his home county. An excited patron, James Muhammad, asked The Sun?s Doug Donovan, ?Is that Barack Obama?? ... Michael Steele had a cameo of his own,on The Food Network?s Ace of Cakes, which stars Baltimore baker Duff Goldman. The lieutenant governor appeared in an episode that shows an elaborate cake made for the Preakness....Tidbit from campaign finance reports: Friends of Martin O?Malley made two payments of $216.67 ? one in June, one in July ? for ?child support.? The campaign confirmed that the wages of a staff member ? they weren?t saying who ? are being garnisheed for child support.

Where have we seen that name before? In the crowded 3rd District congressional race, one candidate promises in a flier to "champion legislation, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, to protect retirees from Enron-style abuse." Hmm. Sarbanes. Sarbanes. Name rings a bell. Oh, that's right! John Sarbanes is running for Congress. He hasn't been elected to anything yet, so what's his name doing on legislation? That's his dad, retiring U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes. Some of John Sarbanes' rivals accuse him of namedropping. Or worse.

"Sarbanes-Oxley was designed to restore trust in the wake of deceptive and fraudulent corporate and accounting scandals that devastated shareholders, including retirees, of companies like Enron," rival Oz Bengur said in a letter to Sarbanes, calling on him to withdraw the flier. "Ironically however, your campaign literature deceptively suggests to the unwary voter that you had something to do with Sarbanes-Oxley."

Andy Barth, another Democratic rival, also chimed in. "Paul isn't running for the 3rd District seat," he said. "His son is the candidate."

Sarbanes campaign manager Pia Carusone declined to comment on the flier. "We're focused on the issues that matter," she said: "universal health care, quality education and ending Bush's occupation of Iraq."

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