Oregon’s HB 3371 moves through committee despite Oregon State Sheriff Association’s opposition and Rep. Andy Olson’s “Reefer Madness”
For the first time in Oregon’s legislative history, a bill pertaining to cannabis made it out of committee and on to the next phase of lawmaking. House Bill 3371, a bill that would legalize marijuana and treat it like alcohol, passed out of the House Judiciary Committee with a vote of 6 to 3, with Rep. Wayne Krieger (R-Brookings) being the only Republican to vote with the five Democrats.
Chairman Rep. Jeff Barker (D-Aloha) indicated they had essentially already decided to move the bill forward, making the hearing a formality, saying, “If you’re here on the marijuana hearing, we’re going to have a very brief hearing on that… this bill is going to be moved to Revenue [Committee], where they will have the substantial policy debate.”
Even though it was basically a formality, the testimony was insightful, and gave a preview of a few of the arguments that might be made in upcoming hearings. Only three people offered testimony supporting the bill: Anthony Johnson of New Approach Oregon, the backers of the legislation; David Kopilak, the drafter of the bill and an attorney for Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt; and John Horvick with DHM Research, a public opinion research company.One person, Sheriff Pat Garrett of Washington County, offered testimony against the bill of behalf of the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association.
The proponents presented first, with Johnson and Kopilak briefly explaining the reasons for the legislation and why they felt it was time to act now.
Johnson started by explaining it is time to regulate marijuana similar to alcohol and stop wasting money on prohibition. The bill would limit marijuana to adult consumption and provide for licensed and taxed retail locations that would check I.D.’s and pay taxes to the state.
“House Bill 3371 will generate millions of dollars to the state of Oregon, create jobs, and will divert that money to help fund education, public safety, and substance abuse programs and mental health programs as well as provide more money for the general fund,” Johnson explained.
Kopilak explained that when drafting the bill they received substantial input from activists, legislators, law enforcement, business entrepreneurs, and others to try and address their concerns and gain broad support. He also explained that, due to the political winds, it would be smart to act sooner rather than later.
“The window of time in which the Legislature can act and play a forward looking role is, I believe, short,” Kopilak pointed out. “If current trends continue and the legislature fails to act in the near term, Oregon may find itself with a new law or constitutional amendment, through the initiative process, that none of us wants.”
John Horvick dropped some polling numbers on the committee that were hard to ignore. With 50 percent of the entire nation supporting legalization in recent polls, and Measure 80 in Oregon garnering 47 percent of the vote, things are changing fast. DHM research conducted a poll in late March of likely 2014 voters in the Beaver State.
“We found that support for marijuana legalization continues to increase with now 50 percent saying they support legalization,” Horvick said. “Perhaps the most significant finding in our survey is that voters overwhelmingly believe that marijuana legalization in Oregon is inevitable.”
The DHM survey shows that 81 percent believe marijuana will eventually be legal in Oregon. “As a public opinion researcher, this result stands out, and I believe sends a signal to where the voters attitudes are heading,” Horvick said.
Sheriff Pat Garrett testified last, and is not in support of the bill, which was no surprise. Every Safe Access Point in Washington County has been shut down by the Sheriff’s Department in the past few years. The sheriff expressed concerns about Federal grants being lost, home growing, increased DUII caseloads, and even the “social costs” being more than the “tax revenues.”
But, most notably, Sheriff Garrett complained that his office would be overworked by enforcement of legal marijuana and also lose revenue from their inability to confiscate and sell off the property of people previously involved in marijuana crimes.
“Section 39 of the act clearly assigns local police officers, deputies, and prosecutors to enforce the provisions of this act, yet it is very concerning the act fails to assign any resources anticipated from the act to go to those law enforcement agencies,” the sheriff said.“If today, local law enforcement investigators investigate a black market marijuana cultivation or distribution enterprise, it leads to forfeiture of property and proceeds from the criminal conduct, the proceeds from forfeiture go to the local investigating agency to help fund other investigations, and to help pay for the investigations high cost in staff and equipment,” Garrett said. “Section 40 appears to disallow that option for provisions of this act and instead require such proceeds go to the school fund.”
As I mentioned, Sheriff Garrett has raided every Safe Access Point in Washington County and confiscated money, property, and spent hundreds of man-hours within his department investigating what some considered model access points for Oregon’s medical marijuana patients like Human Collective and Serene Dreams.
Ignoring his other unsupported testimony, it is hypocritical to claim you won’t have the manpower or funds to enforce the provisions of legal marijuana in a county that spends more time investigating marijuana crimes than any other jurisdiction in Oregon.
The hearing ended as promised, with a vote to move the bill on to the Revenue Committee, but they did so without a “Do Pass” recommendation, thanks mainly to House GOP Leader Rep. Andy Olson (R-Albany).Chairman Barker voiced a few concerns, but generally showed support for the measure overall, and even quipped at one point, “Those of us who grew up watching Reefer Madness are getting old or dying off.”
His comments obviously irritated some, and Rep. Olson interjected his own view of Reefer Madness when he came out against the “Do Pass” recommendation stating, “All you have to do is Google right now and go over to the British Medical Journal and read what they’ve done over the last several years with their issues out there. “
“They identify that marijuana, in itself, increases the risk of psychosis, I don’t want that here in this country,” Olson said. “They also identified that teen marijuana usage may cause damage to the brain for life.”
Olson touted other studies from the Journal, saying “[A study showed] one marijuana cigarette equates to one pack of tobacco cigarettes on the impact on your lungs…and then also there’s another study that identifies that it permanently lowers the I.Q.”
Reefer Madness, indeed. If Rep. Olson had taken the time to investigate a bit, he would find thousands of studies on cannabis, most of them showing that cannabis does not cause significant harm, and is safer than alcohol. In fact, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has published more regularly “cited” and peer reviewed studies which are supportive of cannabis than against it.
Google can be a powerful tool, indeed, when in the hands of someone that knows how to use it. At the mercy of a novice with an agenda who also has a little power, it can be dangerous.