If voters approve a ballot measure this fall, Oregon might be the next state to add the use of recreational marijuana to medical cannabis on this list of legal uses for marijuana. Criminal penalties have been removed for Oregonians who possess less than one ounce of recreational cannabis, but the sale and purchase of marijuana is still illegal. As of November 2014, however, that may change. On June 27, The New Approach Oregon Campaign (NAO) turned 145,710 signatures into the Oregon Secretary of State, ensuring that the legalization of recreational marijuana will be put on the Oregon ballot again for a vote this fall.
The ballot signatures were turned in exactly six months after the first state to legalize recreational cannabis, Colorado, opened its doors to the control and sale of recreational marijuana. According to Steve Elliot, blogger for Hemp News, Colorado is expected the generate $30 million in tax revenues from the sale of recreational cannabis this next year. Elliot further reports that Colorado has seen a 10 percent drop in violent crime and homicides have decreased by half in the six months since the legalization of pot.
If voters pass IP 53, the initiative to legalize recreational marijuana in addition to medical cannabis, then Oregon will be next to join Colorado and neighbor to the north, Washington, as the only three states where citizens 21 years and older may smoke weed with a nod from the state. The nation is trending toward the legalization of both medical cannabis and recreational marijuana. Of the fifty states, sixteen have decriminalized marijuana, meaning generally that possession of the small amounts of the substance is not prosecutable but the sale and purchase of marijuana are still illegal. Twenty-one states plus the District of Columbia have medical marijuana legislation in place.
New Approach Oregon points out that Oregon’s legal laws are inconsistent, unenforceable, and expensive. It is not illegal to possess an ounce of marijuana, according to Oregon law, but it is illegal to own more than one ounce, or to buy or sell marijuana. In the absence of marijuana that spontaneously generates at the will of smokers, it is conceivable to think that people who possess the drug have, at some point, purchased it, and therefore, violated state law.
In 2012, documents released by the Oregon State Police department show that the law enforcement body dealt with 15,847 marijuana-related crimes. That is nearly two cases per hour, every hour, all over the state, throughout the year. Supporters of the legalization of marijuana say the resources consumed in dealing with those incidents, which are now considered to be crimes and would no longer be so if marijuana were legalized, could be better spent elsewhere.
Groups like NAO are working to see marijuana become legalized cite a failed ‘War on Drugs’ as a reason for decriminalizing pot. New Approach Oregon’s website reports the United States has spent more than $1 trillion and 40 years and have made no measurable decrease in the use of recreational marijuana. The group believes the solution to the failed ‘War on Drugs’ is to regulate and tax the sale of marijuana to adults and use the resulting revenue to educate children and protect communities from more serious drug-related criminal activity.
Critics of marijuana legalization believe that marijuana use leads to use of other drugs. In 2012, Reuters reported that Representative Kathleen Conti, D-Colo., told a group of mothers, “It’s baloney,” that marijuana is not a gateway drug. Before citizens from the state of Colorado voted to legalize pot, Conti traveled around the state holding grassroots meetings and telling audiences that her son became hooked on heroin after smoking marijuana.
Both sides of the argument over whether or not to legalize the recreational use of marijuana agree that ensuring youth do not have access to the substance is a critical priority. Because critics of the legalization movement focus on the idea that pot is a gateway drug, they target their message to the people who have the kids who might have easier access to pot in the event the substance became legalized. The anti-legalization movement is made up mostly, and not surprisingly, of teachers and mothers.
Oregon voters turned down a ballot measure initiative in 2012 by a 54 percent to 46 percent margin. According to Chris Good, a former writer for ABC News, the way the Oregon bill was written was kind of “wacky.” Good characterized the 2012 initiative as having light controls and effectively having had the potential to turn the state of Oregon into a pot dealer. Also, the state initiative had no deep-pocketed backers at the time.
Creating a state bureaucracy to manage the cultivation, distribution, and sale of legalized marijuana takes time, so even if Oregon might be the next state to legalize recreational marijuana in addition to medical cannabis, the law wouldn’t take effect immediately. Of course, with a neighbor to the north, Washington, blazing the administrative trail, Oregon could soon be the next state to legalize marijuana.
By Kaley Perkins