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Editorial: Despite doubts, a welcome end to marijuana prohibition

Oregonians pass marijuana legalization — so what's next?

Published on November 10, 2014 12:01AM

Prohibition hasn’t worked and it is not worth the costs

Oregon now joins what may be a groundswell of support for legalizing recreational use of marijuana, a revolution that would have been unimaginable as recently as the start of this century. In Clatsop County, more than 56.5 percent said yes, according to last Friday’s ballot update.

It is a historic moment, signaling rejection of a concept in place since the mid-20th century that marijuana deserved strict interdiction. This approach was based on an unfounded belief that marijuana almost inevitably led to worse drugs while channeling money to a vicious criminal underworld. Impacts of criminalization were disproportionately borne by African-Americans, but too many individuals of every type paid a heavy price in terms of imprisonment and stigma.

At least here on the West Coast, there’s a growing belief that it’s time to quit this fight. However one may feel about adding a potent new drug to the approved list of ways to chemically alter consciousness, marijuana prohibition hasn’t worked and is not worth the costs.

A majority of county and state voters clearly did not share the concerns of Clatsop County Attorney Josh Marquis or The Daily Astorian. Both cautioned that Measure 91 is dramatically more liberal in its provisions than is true in Washington and Colorado. This will invite additional federal scrutiny.

Now, much is riding on exactly how the Oregon Liquor Control Commission drafts rules for the legal production, processing, sale and use of marijuana. Bringing a large industry out of the shadows and into the mainstream is proving tricky in other states. Oregon officials have said they will avail themselves of all the lessons learned so far in Washington and Colorado. This is good, but Oregon will undoubtedly encounter its own set of bumps on the road to dismantling decades of illegal trade and substituting a brand new government-regulated structure. Oregon’s experience with medical marijuana will certainly help.

As a practical matter, in recent years there have been few local prosecutions for simple possession, but it remains against the law until next July 1. Even then, it will remain illegal to consume it in public or in hospitality businesses like restaurants and bars.

Like alcohol, marijuana will also continue to be off-limits to individuals under age 21. It is an especially important challenge for regulators, parents, law enforcement and educators to make certain Oregon’s legal marijuana stays out of the developing brains of young people. Sophisticated growing techniques have made modern marijuana considerably stronger than that which today’s decision-makers may have experimented with decades ago. Credible research shows that it can, in some respects, do lasting damage to young people.

With every Oregon household being allowed starting next July to grow up to four plants and every individual allowed up to half a pound of processed marijuana, parents will be obliged to set firm rules and exhibit positive behavioral examples. As we know regarding alcohol, a substance can be legal but still be strongly ill-advised for many individuals and circumstances.

Beyond all these personal and local factors, it remains to be seen whether the federal government will continue to stand by as states effectively break away from the dictates of U.S. law. It is tempting to believe that a new president elected in 2016 from either political party will acknowledge the winds of change — at least continuing to keep the Department of Justice on the sidelines, or perhaps even explicitly moving to loosen or revoke federal laws. At a minimum, there clearly is a need for additional legitimization of the marijuana industry when it comes to banking regulations aimed at illicit drug proceeds.

Legalization is a big experiment, sort of the flip side of the alcohol Prohibition era a century ago. It will be fascinating to see how it works out. In the meantime, see for the liquor commission’s answers to frequently asked questions.


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