Every election year The Right, The Left, and everyone in between debate over which candidate can best serve as our president. This highly-charged public discourse results in higher voter turnouts. In turn, this promise of a high turnout of voters attracts the more controversial laws and measures to be submitted to the ballot as well.
Measure 80 in Oregon was brought forward by 86,000 petition signatures and aimed to legalize marijuana for personal and commercial use. Yet marijuana continues to divide the people of Oregon, with 45% of the ballot returns voting in favor of the measure, while 54% voted against [Balletpedia]. While twenty-six years ago marijuana legalization was voted down by seventy-four percent of voters [Suellentrop]. Which leaves marijuana illegal to use, possess, and sell in Oregon. But clearly there is a growing number of people who believe that should change.
This growing population in favor of legalization did not sprout up overnight. Public perception of the dangers of marijuana use have slowly changed over many years. This has developed in part, by studies showing much less danger of mental impairment in adults than adolescents. While adolescent use of marijuana has shown to lower I.Q., users who started use in adulthood showed no signs of I.Q. impairment [Klein]. There has also been a growing acceptance of medical use. Medical marijuana dispensaries have opened around the state, with the majority located in the Portland area. These marijuana dispensaries have gone from small grow operations in a person's residence, to large farms producing millions of dollars of marijuana [Crombie]. We can see from recent marijuana legalization laws in Washington and Colorado that this public opinion is not limited to Oregon [Balletpedia2].
This shift in thinking has changed the way our judicial system deals with marijuana laws. Multnomah County Circuit Judge Doug Beckman said, “I think there’s a broader social acceptance of marijuana. And gradually there’s increasing public pressure to decriminalize marijuana” [Budnick]. And the Oregon Decriminalization Bill of 1973 abolishes criminal charges for small amounts of marijuana, making it of lowest priority for police [Suellentrop].
These social attitudes have led to changes in how the police operate and have resulted in a thriving black market of illegal marijuana sales in Oregon [Crombie]. Many would argue that because so many people are already growing, selling, and using marijuana in private, a prohibition is the wrong way to deal with the issue. Measure 80 intended to address some of these issues by making legal the production of consumable marijuana and industrial hemp. Measure 80 would also establish a state commission to regulate and distribute marijuana for sale around the state.
One of the positive results of Measure 80 (or a similar measure) would be the increased state revenue from taxation of marijuana sales. A committee to determine the financial impact of Measure eighty, which included Secretary of State Kate Brown and State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, concluded that it may cost the state up to twenty-three million dollars to implement a marijuana commission, but the revenue to the state will likely exceed costs. After funding the commission, the measure required that ninety percent of sales tax would go to the state general fund, which is used to fund schools, police departments, and public works [Financial].
In addition to state funding, Measure 80 stipulates that two percent of tax revenue be used to promote the industrial hemp industry in Oregon. This would be important for the farming industry for many reason. Hemp has essential fatty acids and can be used for supplemental foods in the same way soy is used. Hemp can be used as a bio-fuel, and requires the least specialization to grow. Hemp can be used instead of timber for all paper products, and has more output and faster turn-around than timber. Also, the production of paper product with hemp is more environmentally friendly; using less water, acids, and chlorine than traditional paper production. Even fiberboard usually produced with wood pulp, can be reproduced easily with hemp, and is twice as strong [Hemp].
While revenue for schools and police are a great incentive to open up a new industry in Oregon, Measure 80 would be too broad in it’s allowances. Kevin Campbell of the Oregon Chiefs of Police Association argues that, “Measure 80 is likely to create a greatly expanded marijuana marketplace for violent drug cartels.” This is because Measure 80 does not regulate how much an individual can grow privately. This would lead to current illegal growers and sellers to continue operating, which would undermine the tax structure and attract non-Oregonians [Campbell].
Another argument against Measure 80 is that marijuana use would increase. Oregon has the third highest rate of adolescent marijuana use in the country . Legalization will increase the chances of children smoking when it can be most damaging to their brains [Klein]. But the examples of Portugal and the Netherlands, which have legalized marijuana, point to decreased usage over time. As the social stigma is removed, and tax dollars are spent on addiction treatment and education about the dangers of drug use, a wider variety of people may try marijuana, but less continue using frequently [Hughes]. So we cannot be sure what the result would be in Oregon.
As stated, Measure 80 was defeated by Oregon voters on November 6th, 2012. It is apparent that there are many people in Oregon who want to allow the use of marijuana, but the concern of Mexican cartels circumventing tax laws and endangering communities is more concerning. In the coming years we will look at the state of Washington and Colorado to look for benefits and problems that arise with marijuana legalization in their states. Will a local and sustainable economy flourish? Or will drug traffickers from outside the state, or country, move in to dominate the market, as has happened in California. If it seems to have positive financial effects and limited social damage, there is no doubt that Oregon voters will see another measure similar to Measure 80, between now and the next presidential election, when voting fervor is at it’s peak again.
Balletpedia. “Oregon Cannabis Tax Act Initiative, Measure 80 (2012)”. 6 Nov 2012 (12 Nov 2012) http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/Oregon_Cannabis_Tax_Act_Initiative,_Measure_80_(2012)
Balletpedia2. “Washington Marijuana Legalization and Regulation, Initiative 502 (2012)”. 6 Nov 2012 (17 Nov 2012) http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/Washington_Marijuana_Legalization_and_Regulation,_Initiative_502_(2012)
Budnick, Nick. “IN WEED WE TRUST”. 15 June 2005 (17 Nov 2012) http://www.wweek.com/portland/article-4496-in_weed_we_trust.html
Campbell, Kevin. “Measure 80: Argument in Opposition”. 2012 Oregon General Election Voters’ Pamphlet. October 2012. 73-74
Crombie, Noelle. The Oregonian. “Medical marijuana, after a modest start, is on the way to becoming big business in Oregon”. 23 June 2012 (17 Nov 2012) http://www.oregonlive.com/health/index.ssf/2012/06/medical_marijuana_after_a_mode.html
Financial Impact Committee. “Measure 80: Estimate of Financial Impact”. 2012 Oregon General Election Voters’ Pamphlet. Oct 2012
Hemp Industries Association. “Frequently Asked Questions about Hemp”. 2009 (17 Nov 2012) http://www.thehia.org/facts.html
Hughes, Caitlen Elizabeth. “What can we learn from the Portuguese decriminalization of illicit drugs?”. 21 July 2010 (17 Nov 2012)
Klein, Leighton W. “Persistent Cannabis Users Show Neuropsychological Decline from Childhood to Midlife”. 29 Aug 2012 (17 Nov 2012) http://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/health/
Suellentrop, Chris. “Which States Have Decriminalized MJ Possession?”. 15 Feb 2001 (17 Nov 2012) http://cannabisnews.com/news/8/thread8678.shtml