The Sunday Oregonian, Oct. 19, 1986

Forum speakers rail against drug use, marijuana initiative

by Lauren Cowen

What was billed as an informational conference on the hazards of drug use became more of a pep rally as 150 people gathered Saturday and cheered on a series of speakers who condemned the use of illegal drugs and urged citizens to work toward defeat of a ballot measure that would liberalize Oregon laws controlling marijuana use.

The conference titled "The Drug Scene in the 80s Touches All Lives" brought together parents, students, doctors, law enforcement experts and others. Meeting Saturday in the Red Lion Motor Inn-Portland Center, they listened to discussions on topics ranging from the latest medical data on the effects of marijuana to the connection between AIDS and drug use.

The conference also attracted a few key backers of Oregon's Ballot Measure 5, which would legalize cultivation of marijuana for personal use by adults. They listened quietly as speaker after speaker condemned the measure.

"You'll hear some people say that since marijuana's been decriminalized in Alaska, everything is rosy," said Michael Spaan, U.S. attorney for Alaska and keynote speaker at the conference. "Hogwash. That's a lie."

Alaska has the highest rate of alcohol and drug consumption in the nation, Spaan said. Decriminalization, among dozens of other problems, has sent a message to children that marijuana is harmless when it isn't, he said.

"I don't think that's a great endorsement," he said.

The conference began as Jeffrey Kushner, assistant director of the Oregon Department of Human Resources' Office of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs, encouraged participants to shop at Fred Meyer stores. Fred Meyer Inc. is printing shopping bags urging customers to vote against Ballot Measure 5.

Kushner, who emphasized several times that he was speaking as an individual and not as a representative of the state, also asked participants to write letters thanking Fred Meyer.

Peter Patricelli, medical director of the Sacred Heart Adolescent Recovery Program in Eugene, outlined his own ongoing research, which he said seemed to show that marijuana use is a far greater problem than had been thought.

An analysis of 410 of the program's patients during the last four years showed that marijuana is used far more than any other drug and is used twice as often as alcohol, Patricelli said. Most important, he said, his statistics seem to show that, for children who become serious drug abusers, experimentation with marijuana comes before experimentation with alcohol, and is sometimes tried by children as young as 4 and 5.

That is contrary to studies from elsewhere that indicate that alcohol experimentation comes first.

Patricelli concluded that either the climate toward marijuana in Oregon is so liberal that it's reversed a national trend or children who start experimenting with marijuana at an early age are more likely to end up in treatment.

"Either way, it's a very serious problem," he said.

Charles Turner, U.S. attorney for Oregon, also spoke at the gathering, declaring that for too long all segments of society - from the media to the clergy and law enforcement - have been unresponsive to the dangers of illegal drug use. He then lashed out at the ballot measure.

"I think it's fair to say that the campaign ... is one of fear ...and intended to get public officials indicted," he said. "It's getting the electorate to believe that it's a political issue.

"Well, it's a health issue," he said, charging that the organizers of the measure were motivated by profit.

"Money is the reason for these tactics," he said.

The conference was sponsored by Oregon Free From Drug Abuse, the American Lung Association of Oregon, Healthink, the state Office of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs and Portland Public Schools.



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