Thursday, October 28, 2010

Getting Honest About Marijuana

I've been writing about marijuana for years, and recently I've been helping out my good friend and colleague Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin in speaking out against Measure 74, which purports to establish a vast network of medical marijuana dispensaries but is in reality a back-door attempt at legalization without thinking out all the ramifications.

I do think there are people who genuinely benefit from medical marijuana. When the measure passed in 1998, supporters thought there might be 500 to 1,500 people who needed cards. Today there are more than 40,000, with 5,000 applications in the pipeline (pun intended). It's clear that a lot of people are smoking doobies because they simply like getting high.

Like many other justice issues, I think we need to be honest in the debate. The Yes side is fairly well funded and has published 11 voters' pamphlet statements. The No side has published two statements, one on behalf of all Oregon's DAs, Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. I have been doing the rounds, going to KGW, OPB, and most recently the very hip Portland Mercury newspaper, arguing the No side. I was stunned when that paper listened carefully to me and decided to urge its readers to vote No. They have incurred the wrath of many of their cannabis-loving readers. I'm appending the Mercury's editorial. (Click on that link to read the 34, at the time of this posting, outraged reader comments.)

As Susan Nielsen, columnist for the Oregonian, wrote today:
"[Josh Marquis is] fine with medical marijuana but oppose[s] Measure 74 as another absurdist twist of drug law. 'You have (federal law) saying marijuana has no medical use. Then the other side says marijuana is the answer to everything. The answer, as with most things, is somewhere in the middle.'"

Here's the Mercury's endorsement:
Measure 74: No

We really, really, really wanted to support this measure—a plan to bring Oregon's medicinal marijuana market out from basements and backyards and into regulated nonprofit dispensaries instead. We support legalization. We also support improving access to pot for patients who can't grow their own stuff and live either in far-flung rural areas or for whatever reason don't run in the same circles as casual pot smokers.

And while this measure comes close to winning our assent, we're not convinced it's the right measure for Oregon patients. Much of the measure's promise of regulation and reform hinges on state rules that would be crafted only after the measure is approved—and there's the very real chance those rules would fall short of advocates' claims. A highly touted provision that calls for grass to be tested lacks a firm financial commitment. There is no limit on the number of dispensaries, meaning more could crop up than the state can afford to regulate (even at best-case scenarios of $40 million in annual revenue from permits). Also, the five-year background checks required by the measure won't weed out (pun intended) someone with a serious drug record who got out of prison yesterday but was first convicted seven years ago.

Our current system in which patients can grow their own shit, or have someone trusted grow for them, isn't perfect. The best growers already have a full complement of patients, and with a lesser grower, it's hard to know what you'll wind up getting. A dispensary measure that was more explicit about testing and regulation would be far more likely to win our favor. For now, vote no.


  1. If marijuana really is a "medicine" why does the proposed legislation universally treat it so differently from other pharmaceuticals? Could this be a pretty good clue that you are right--that there really is another motive?

  2. Josh,
    Just what has your good friend and colleague Tom Bergin done about the marijuana problem? I know he has complained about this measure in the paper, but what effective drug enforcement projects has he initiated since being Sheriff to deal with marijuana. For those who read the Daily A, his drug task force does about two busts a year, each costing about $150,000, and the criminals are out of his jail and on the street the next day continuing to sell dope. Astoria and Warrenton PDs do more on their own to deal with illegal drugs than Bergin's specalized and expensive unit. I could be wrong and Tom is really active in this area. I look forward to your list of his projects to run druggies out of Clatsop County.

  3. Tom Bergin has done more for REAL drug enforcement than any other law enforcement official in the region.
    He has kept the Drug Task Force alive and made sure they take on REAL drug dealers dealing meth and oxy and heroin