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January 25th, 2012 BEN WATERHOUSE | Cover Story
 

Weed All About It

Will 2012 be the year Oregon finally adopts a reasonable marijuana policy?

lede_weed_3812Photo Illustration by Carolyn Richardson
Oregonians love marijuana. Take a walk along Southeast Clinton Street some summer evening and you’ll get contact confirmation. 

The most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health, from 2009, estimated that between 7.7 and 11.3 percent of adult Oregonians had blazed in the previous 30 days. That’s the seventh-highest rate in the nation, behind a bunch of states like Alaska and New Hampshire whose citizens are essentially snowed into their grow houses half the year. 

We harvest it by the bale, too. Oregon’s marijuana crop was valued at more than $210 million in a 2006 paper by activist Jon Gettman. That makes it the state’s fourth-largest cash crop behind hay, wheat and onions.

And yet, for a state that prides itself on its progressivism, Oregon lags behind California and Colorado, where medical marijuana patients are free to shop at for-profit dispensaries. Here, as in Washington, Montana and New Mexico, patients must grow their own or persuade another cardholder to grow it for them without state oversight. That’s hardly a reasonable way to dispense “medicine.” 

Will 2012 be the year we finally make progress? Here’s a primer to the state of weed in the state.


Hey, man, what’s up with Oregon’s 420 laws?

Well, it’s still illegal. Possession of more than an ounce is still a class B felony, and possession of less than an ounce is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000. The Portland Police Bureau investigated about 860 marijuana-related cases in 2011, according to bureau spokesman Sgt. Greg Stewart.


Bummer, dude! Are we gonna, like, fix that?

Possibly by the end of 2012. There are three organizations gathering voter signatures to place legalization measures on the ballot in 2012. The Hemp and Cannabis Foundation, headed by activist Paul Stanford, is pushing the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act. Oregon NORML is behind Sensible Oregon, a legalization measure similar to NORML-backed initiatives in California and Colorado. Oregon Marijuana Policy Initiative director Robert Wolfe has written a constitutional amendment legalizing the personal use, possession and production of marijuana by adults. 


Whoa, there are three different legalization plans? That’s weird. Are they super different?

The initiatives vary mainly in complexity.

The first plan, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, is five pages of legislation allowing Oregonians over the age of 21 to grow and use marijuana without a license and establishing an Oregon Cannabis Commission, similar to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, to govern the licensing and taxation of commercial cultivation and sale. 

OCTA is the latest version of the project to which Stanford has dedicated his career. “This initiative, I started drafting it in 1988, and I’ve had input from over 100 experts and lawyers around the world,” he says. The biggest change to the new OCTA, according to Stanford, is the separation of the OCC from the OLCC—since a 2011 poll indicated “people don’t want to see people buying alcohol and marijuana at the same time.”

The second plan, Sensible Oregon’s measure, takes a less proscriptive approach. Instead, it just repeals the Oregon statutes banning the manufacture, delivery and possession of marijuana and replaces them with language that prohibits the restriction of those activities by adults over the age of 21. It also directs the Oregon Health Authority to come up with rules governing the legal sale of marijuana by the beginning of 2014.

“Sensible Oregon is a statutory initiative that would remove all civil and criminal penalties for the possession, the transportation, the cultivation and the use of marijuana for adults, and it allows [you] to cultivate in your yard as long as you give it away,” says Oregon NORML director Mary Anne Sanford. “We’re leaving everything else intact.”

The third plan, OMPI’s measure, is the simplest of the bunch. It’s only three sentences enshrining the right of adults to grow, possess and use marijuana in the state constitution.

“There’s two ways to go with these things,” says Wolfe of legalization. “You can write 10 to 30 pages and impose on Oregon a fully conceived new marijuana economy, or you can ask a simpler question that’s relevant to a lot more people, which is, should we suffer fairly harsh criminal penalties for possessing marijuana and maybe growing a couple plants yourself?”


Cool beans, man. So will any of them make it to the voting round?

It’s too early to say—petitioners have until July 6 to turn in enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot (116,283 signatures to amend the constitution, 87,213 to change state law). OCTA has gathered more signatures to date than its competitors (about 30,000, according to Stanford), but the campaign has already spent over $97,000. It’s now broke. 

“We had a benefit that wasn’t beneficial in July,” Stanford says. “I’ve donated about $80,000 [from the Hemp and Cannabis Foundation], which amounts to about 80 percent, maybe 95 percent, of the funds raised so far. I’m ready to contribute another $5,000.”

OMPI’s campaign has fewer signatures but more cash, thanks in large part to $45,500 in donations from the Foundation for Constitutional Protection, a group based in Austin, Texas, that funds marijuana legalization efforts.

“I don’t think OCTA or the Sensible Oregon measure has any chance at all,” Wolfe says. “[Sensible Oregon] doesn’t have any resources. OCTA [has been] stalled out for months. We, on the other hand, are just now developing, and we have the funding in place to push forward.”

As of press time, Sensible Oregon’s ballot title had not been approved by the state. The campaign has recorded donations of $534.

“They’re all trying to get to the same end,” NORML’s Sanford says of the measures. “One’s really long, one’s absolutely one sentence, and ours is just trying to get to provide it to people.”

If any of the initiatives succeeds in making the 2012 ballot, Oregon will not be alone in voting on legalization. The backers of Initiative 502, a Washington state measure similar to OCTA, say they’ve turned in over 100,000 more signatures than they need to qualify for the ballot, and the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012, a legalize-and-tax initiative in Colorado, claims to have submitted sufficient signatures to qualify as well.


Whoa, déjà vu! Haven’t we voted on this before?

Speak for yourself, gramps. Marijuana legalization last made the ballot in 1986, when supporters of the Oregon Marijuana Initiative spent about $50,000 only to see the measure fail with just 26 percent support. Previous versions of Stanford’s Oregon Cannabis Tax Act have failed to make it to the ballot in 1996, 1998 and 2010.


So what will this mean for all my friends with little cards for their backaches and nausea?

The many dispensaries, co-ops, delivery services and other assorted businesses that have sprung up to serve the 57,389 patients enrolled in the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program continue to exist in a regulatory vacuum. 

Two Washington County dispensaries, Wake n Bake and Serene Dreams, were shut down by police in 2011. At least one Portland dispensary, Foster Healing Center, closed its doors voluntarily after then-U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton issued a warning in June that “the sale of marijuana for any purpose—including as medicine—violates both federal and Oregon law and will not be tolerated.”

Holton’s warning didn’t stop OMMP cardholders from opening dispensaries and delivery services in disused storefronts across the city. Potlocator.com lists 21 dispensaries in Portland, each of them operating within their own interpretation of Oregon law.


Can’t trust the Man, man.

Indeed. In the absence of clarified rules from the state, Don Morse, director of Human Collective, a Tigard “OMMP membership support group,” is seeking to bring some order to his industry through the creation of a trade group, the Oregon Greener Business Bureau. 

Created in December at the first-ever OMMP Business Conference in Clackamas, the OGGB requires its five members to abide by strict rules: They must document all transactions, test all dispensed marijuana for pesticides, use medicine vials with childproof caps, and not dispense more than an ounce per week to any one patient, and will not business names or carry merchandise that “reflects recreational use.”

“Because there are no legislative rules or guidelines for this industry, we have created our own,” Morse says. “Believe me, there are plenty of resource centers and dispensaries that are not applying this level of common sense.”

Morse says the organization is seeking to hire a lobbyist, and hopes to get some of its self-regulations enshrined in law in 2013.


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