By Maddelena Rubini
Legalized recreational marijuana is back on this year’s November ballot after Oregonians smote the previous measure in 2012. This time around, Measure 91 proposes a more sensible tax structure, as well as more concrete plans for regulation and public safety. Regardless, Measure 91 has many citizens clutching their pearls in fear of a hypothetical scenario where utter degeneracy and licentiousness reign. Let’s look at some pros and cons articulated by both sides, as well as some statistics, and decide for ourselves.
The Low Down
If approved, Measure 91 will legalize the sale, purchase, and possession of specific amounts of marijuana for people aged 21 and older. Members of this age group may possess up to 8 ounces of dried cannabis and up to four live plants. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission will be responsible for regulating sales and distribution. Violations of OLCC regulations would result in a variety of punitive actions that range from Class B misdemeanors all the way up to Class C felonies.
Increased tax revenue
Measure 91 proposes a system of taxation and distribution that will benefit the community without stifling licensed marijuana distributors. With Washington and Colorado acting as a model for what not to do with tax rates, Oregon’s proposed structure is as follows: $35 per ounce of marijuana flowers, $10 per ounce of marijuana leaves, and $5 per immature marijuana plant. Quantities less than an ounce will be taxed at a proportionate rate.
According to Seth Crawford, instructor in Oregon State University’s department of sociology and market specialist, low taxes are key to creating a formal legal marijuana economy. This couldn’t be truer when you look at states like Washington, where tax rates out-priced product and consumers turned to the black market for cheaper options.
On the community’s side, the estimated $38.5 million in new tax revenue will be distributed as such: 40 percent to common school fund, 20 percent to mental health and addiction services, 15 percent to State police, 10 percent to counties in proportion to population, 10 percent to cities in proportion to their population, and five percent to the Oregon Heath Authority. After July 1, 2017, city and county shares will be determined based on the number of marijuana licenses. Considering that schools, mental health facilities, and law enforcement are woefully underfunded across the nation, let alone in Oregon, this is a good thing.
Regulation = Supply Control
Measure 91 enumerates a detailed regulatory system that will be controlled by OLCC much like alcohol. Manufacturers, distributors, and vendors will be required to obtain licenses and permits. Additionally, each leg of the business economy will be required to account for all product. Consumers will be carded with the same stringency that exists at state liquor stores.
Kayla Dunham, co-owner of the Agrestic Green Collective, states that regulation of this kind will make it difficult for the black market to survive because every bit of the plant will be entered into a POS system to track inventory, sales, and waste. Dunham points out that under the current system medical dispensaries have to return marijuana to a grower if it doesn’t pass lab tests for fungus, pesticides, and other impurities. “There’s no way of saying where [the marijuana] goes from there. That’s how marijuana ends up on the black market,” said Dunham.
Considering that 60 percent of American teenagers say that they have more access to marijuana than alcohol—including the two who accidentally started the Chip Ross Park fire—it’s clear that the supply needs to be regulated responsibly. As an example of how regulation has been effective so far, Corvallis Chief of Police Jonathan M. Sassaman stated, “We’ve not had a negative experience with the dispensary model. We’re not having calls for service.”
Frees up the police force
If Measure 91 passes, the police force will be able to focus on more pressing issues. According to Sassaman, 64 percent of all calls to service in Corvallis are connected to alcohol. Corvallis also has significant heroin and methamphetamine problems. Sex trafficking is also a huge issue in Oregon. Essentially, legalization will allow already taxed police forces to investigate racketeering and trafficking crimes that actually hurt people. Furthermore, otherwise productive citizens who smoke marijuana will escape marginalization. After conducting a study of marijuana growers in Oregon, Crawford concluded that as a group they are “educated with a bachelor’s degree or above and involved in their community, but made less money than their counterparts.”
We are right to be concerned about impaired drivers, especially those who mix alcohol and marijuana. According to a Colorado Department of Transportation report, driving fatalities have gone down since legalization in 2012. Furthermore, only five percent of all DWIs involved marijuana. On the flip side, among the smaller group of fatalities, more test positive for THC in post-mortem toxicology reports. However, current testing technologies only determine if THC is in the system, not inebriation at time of impact. Essentially, a person could smoke a joint up to a week before dying sober in a car crash and THC would still register on a drug test.
The model outlined in Measure 91 to prevent impaired driving is similar to Colorado’s. There will be an established impairment level—Colorado’s is five nanograms of THC per milliliter of whole blood—and testing will most likely be done via urine samples procured through warrant after the fact. Law enforcement officers are already trained to detect impairment on the spot, and additional specialization as a drug recognition expert (DRE) is available.
Similar to impaired driving, we are also right to worry about people who decide to show up to work drugged or drunk. Even if it might make your a-hole boss easier to deal with, it costs businesses money with decreased productivity, increased mistakes, and increased accidents in the workplace. This issue was addressed in 2010 when the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that federal laws controlling illegal drugs trump Oregon’s medical marijuana program. Even if you have a medical marijuana card, you can be fired if your workplace has a zero-tolerance drug policy. Since Measure 91 is about recreational use by able-bodied individuals, one could reasonably expect the same consequences, if not more, for coming to work stoned.
Increase in violent crime
Again, this is a valid concern. But let’s look to Colorado for some statistics. Since legalization in 2012, their violent crime figures parse as such:
Homicide – down 30 percent
Sexual Assault – down 15 percent
Robbery – down 7.9 percent
Aggravated Assault – up 1.3 percent
This is hardly an end-of-the-world scenario ruled by criminals. To bring the crime statistics related to regulation closer to home, Sassaman reported at a recent City Club meeting that there have only been four attempted break and entries since the dispensaries opened. Security will remain an issue for medical dispensaries and, if they open, retail stores. However, Corvallis seems to have it under control so far.
Increased drug use and addiction
After applying foresight gained from years in law enforcement, Sassaman stated, “As far as social cost, I see the possibility of broken lives, broken families, and addiction. In Corvallis, our current experience is an uptick of offenses related to meth and heroin, things that lead to racketeering.” Essentially, marijuana use just isn’t that big of a problem here.
Along those lines, Crawford pointed to a study indicating that those who don’t use marijuana already are not inclined to start. He cited the Netherlands as a model. “People don’t just run out and start using marijuana,” he said. “Since legalization in 1972, rates of use [in the Netherlands] are half than the U.S.” Governor of Colorado John Hickenlooper went on record in other media outlets with a similar sentiment that was vastly different than his pre-legalization tune. “It seems like the people who were smoking before are the people who smoke now. We’re not having more drunken driving incidents. We’re actually regulating and taxing something, not putting money into the hands of gangsters,” he said.
At the end of the day
Vote according to your conscience. However, Measure 91 is a solid bill crafted with communities which include people who enjoy the effects of marijuana in mind. Find the full text at http://egov.sos.state.or.us/elec/web_irr_search.record_detail?p_reference=20140053..LSCYYY. Get informed. Talk about it with friends and family. Most importantly, vote.