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Oregon to vote on legalizing marijuana

On Nov. 6, Oregonians can vote on Ballot Measure 80, which proposes the legalization of marijuana

By Harry Blakeman
On October 11, 2012

It goes by many names: cannabis, ganja, marijuana, sticky icky, hemp, pot, weed, dope, but whatever you call it, it may become legal to use in Oregon if you're over 21.

When Oregonians vote on Nov. 6 for president, they will also have a chance to vote on Ballot Measure 80, better known as the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA), which would legalize the cultivation, distribution, and consumption of all marijuana and hemp product in Oregon for adults over 21.

If passed, Measure 80 would establish a new commission to be run by marijuana growers and processors, that would regulate the use of cannabis in a similar manner that the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) regulates the sale of alcohol. But unlike the OLCC, the commission would be majority controlled by members of the cannabis growing community, not state officials.

A SurveyUSA poll conducted for KATU News in early Sept. showed only 37 percent in favor of the measure, with 41 percent opposed. However, 22 percent reported uncertain, so the fate of the measure remains unpredictable.

Paul Stanford, founder of the OCTA 2012 campaign, one of the primary supporters of the measure, sees the act as a great way to free up space in the penal system and claims it could save the Oregon criminal justice system upwards of $61.5 million.

"We have more people in prison than at any other time, most of those people are in prison for drug related crimes, and most of the people in prison for drugs are in prison for marijuana," Stanford said.

Stanford also thinks hemp could provide a great boost to the economy, and thinks that marijuana as a drug has been used as a scapegoat to shift the focus away from the practical uses of hemp.

"It has more food, fuel, and medicine than any other plant," said Stanford.

Stanford hopes that Oregon can generate revenue by taxing marijuana as well.

Tom Parker, director of communications for Lines of a Life, a substance abuse hotline and preventative organization, said the measure is flawed, especially in how it deals with youth. Measure 80 legalizes marijuana for adults only over 21, but Parker points to alcohol consumption among minors as proof of laws being unable to keep substances away from younger users.

Parker said that continued, persistent use of marijuana has been proven to correlate with I.Q. drops in youth over the long term.

"It's simple facts. It's a period of time when the brain is still developing," Parker said.

Parker says his organization also worries about a rise in persistent use, as legalizing marijuana would likely lower its cost.

"If you lower the price, you'll get more use," he said.

Stanford acknowledges that youth drug use is dangerous, but says that it is already prevalent.

"Drug dealers don't ask for I.D. Prohibition doesn't work - education and taxation are the best way to handle kids using drugs," said Stanford.

Oregon first banned marijuana in 1935. The debate seemed settled until the 1970s, when Oregon became the first state to decriminalize marijuana in 1973. Decriminalization removes the legal consequences such as felony or misdemeanor. After this, possession of marijuana not exceeding 28.35 grams was punishable only by fines. In 1998, Oregon took a step further by becoming the second state, after California, to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.

To date, no state has fully legalized marijuana. If any state does make marijuana legal, it would bring up legal questions as cannabis remains illegal at the federal level, which supersedes state law. Because of this, the practical effects of the act have been called into question.

Stanford hopes this measure will spark a national debate. Oregon is not the only state this year with a ballot measure proposing legalizing marijuana. Colorado and Washington are also voting on the issue.

"If one, two, or all three of the states vote to legalize, it'll be a transformative moment," Stanford says.

He says the Oregon measure has been written explicitly for challenge in federal court, and that he expects that should the measure pass, that is where it will end up. Stanford cites the Death with Dignity Act, a law Oregon passed in 1994 legalizing euthanasia that resulted in a Supreme Court decision upholding the act and altering federal law 12 years later.

On campus, students see the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana.

Sophomore Nate Chatterton, who suffers from Tourette's syndrome and ankylosing spondylitis - a form of spinal arthritis - uses marijuana to reduce pain. He has a medical marijuana card issued to him in both Oregon and Washington, but hopes the measure will pass.

"Honestly, it's a plant. People should just use it wisely like they do with alcohol," Chatterton said.

Sophomore Lauren Anneberg thinks that the measure is a good idea because it will generate tax revenue.

"I'm pro legalizing it, I'm not a smoker, but I think it's a smart choice to legalize it for economic reasons," she said.

Anneberg doesn't see a lot of new smokers coming out if marijuana becomes legal.

"I think it's more of a moral issue than a legal one. If they were going to smoke, they would be already," she said.


"The Oregon Cannabis Tax Act"

Ballot Measure 80 proposes the legalization of the cultivation, distribution and consumption of marijuana. Also proposes the creation of a commission run by marijuana growers and processors to regulate the use of cannabis in Oregon. Marijuana would be legal to use for people over 21.

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