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Colorado and Washington Experts Weigh in on Oregon’s Marijuana Legalization Bid


If Oregonians vote for Measure 91 in November, the state will legalize, regulate and tax marijuana.

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Photo via Shutterstock

Photo via Shutterstock

Though an earlier proposal to legalize marijuana was narrowly shot down by Oregon’s voters in 2012, a new bill on the upcoming November 4 ballot is expected to change the game in the Beaver State.

If passed, Measure 91 will mean that Oregon legalizes, regulates and taxes marijuana for adults 21 and over, as Washington and Colorado already have. Adults will be able to possess up to eight ounces of dried pot, plus four plants and other marijuana-infused products.

Though the bill has come under fire from vocal opponents, the experts and advocates from Colorado and Washington who participated in a teleconference organized by the Drug Policy Alliance today offered a positive outlook.

Art Way, director of the DPA’s Colorado office, said that legalization in Oregon “would not detrimentally affect public health and public safety.” Since legalizing weed last year, Way’s state has seen traffic fatalities hit historic lows, which he credits to “bringing marijuana above ground.” He also pointed out the massive economic benefits—noting that Colorado has saved between $12 and $40 million of the money (over $60 million) that was previously spent on enforcing marijuana prohibition.

The benefits of legalization in terms of police resources were emphasized by Tony Ryan, a retired officer who served Denver for 22 years. He explained that police should “be better at preventing crime than just responding to it”—which means focusing less on enforcing marijuana laws and more on using the often-scarce number of on-duty police officers to respond to more serious crimes. Norm Stamper, former chief of the Seattle Police Department, added that the enforcement of marijuana laws contributes to the “strained relationship” between police officers and minorities, who are disproportionally targeted for drug-related offenses. And Alison Holcombe, Criminal Justice Director of the Washington ACLU, said that she actually sees the future of crime prevention in the legal regulated marijuana industry, which she calls “an economic weapon” to combat the illegal drug trade.

One concern of Oregonians considering which way to vote relates to edibles and their possible appeal to young children. But Colorado State Rep. Jonathan Singer emphasized that Colorado has pushed manufacturers to keep the concentration of THC in each wrapped package down to 10 mg, as well as passing a bill this year to help keep edibles out of the hands of kids by ensuring that packaging is opaque and doesn’t contain appealing colors or graphics. Anthony Johnson, chief petitioner of Oregon’s Measure 91, said that legalizing weed would cut back on the amount of edibles sold illegally, helping to “bring them into a regulated market.”

Former social worker and Colorado State Rep. Jonathan Singer challenged those who have described Colorado’s successful Amendment 64 as an experiment. “The real experiment was prohibition,” he said—adding that it was a resounding failure. Marijuana sales and taxation, on the other hand, would “help put money in our coffers,” he said. “It is time to start treating marijuana as the drug that it is.”