The Oregonian, Wednesday, April 30, 1997, pp. A1 & A10

Bill would criminalize marijuana once again

  • The House, reversing Oregon's 24-year-old law, makes possession of less than an ounce punishable by jail time

    By Ashbel S. Green
    of The Oregonian staff

    SALEM - The House approved a measure Tuesday that could reverse almost a quarter-century of Oregon drug law history.

    Under the proposal, possession of small amounts of marijuana would be a crime punishable by jail time.

    House Bill 3643, which is expected to pass the Senate easily, would overturn a 24-year-old Oregon law that makes possession of less than one ounce of marijuana a violation, like speeding, and punishable by a fine of $500 to $1,000.

    The proposed law would raise possession of less than one ounce of marijuana to a Class C misdemeanor and allow diversion on a first offense.

    An ounce is about enough to fill a standard plastic sandwich bag.

    Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, has reservations about the bill, particularly the estimated $1.5 million cost in court time, lawyer fees and jail space. "We want to see them pay for it," spokesman Bob Applegate said of legislators who supported the measure.

    But Applegate stopped short of saying Kitzhaber might veto the bill.

    Supporters said HB3643, which passed 43-17, would help police fight the rise in marijuana use and send a clearer message to children that smoking marijuana is wrong.

    "We need to stop treating it like it's some sort of recreational substance," said Rep. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg.

    But opponents said it was hypocritical to focus on marijuana when cigarette smoking among children is a bigger problem.

    "We need to skin Joe Camel and hang his hide on the wall in the chamber here," said

    Please turn to
    Marijuana, Page A10

    Marijuana: Medicinal exception defeated

    Continued from Page One

    Rep. Tom Whelan, D-Salem.

    Before the vote, the House turned back an attempt to create a legal defense for people who use marijuana for medicinal purposes. The measure failed 41-14.

    Another substitute measure would have altered the structure of the current law, making possession of less than half an ounce a violation. It failed 35-18.

    In 1973, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Other states followed but later reversed themselves, leaving Oregon alone in its permissiveness, said Darin Campbell, lobbyist for the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police.

    That changed in 1996, when voters in Arizona and California loosened drug laws to allow marijuana and possibly other drugs for medicinal purposes. The political battle has moved from the ballot to the Arizona and California legislatures, where lawmakers are considering changes in the voter initiatives.

    In practical terms, HB3643 would be a significant change in Oregon's marijuana laws. Currently, people cited for possession are fined and

    House Bill 3643

  • The Issue: The Oregon House on
    Tuesday voted 43-17 for a bill that
    would overturn an Oregon law making
    possession of less than an ounce of
    marijuana a violation, similar to a
    speeding ticket, and not a criminal of-

  • The Change: The bill would make
    possession of less than one ounce of
    marijuana a Class C misdemeanor and
    allow diversion on a first offense. De-
    fendants would have a right to a lawyer,
    possibly at state expense.

  • What's Next: The bill will go to the
    Senate, which probably will pass it and
    send it to Gov. John Kitzhaber. He has
    reservations about potential court, jail
    and lawyer costs but has not said he
    would veto it.

    lose their driver's license for six months. Under the proposed law, the offense would be a misdemeanor, and defendants would have the right to a lawyer, in some cases at state expense.

    Routine enforcement could vary. Officer Kim Keist of the Portland Police Bureau's Marijuana Task Force said much of the enforcement on the street would be up to each officer's discretion. However, she said, the bill would "be an added tool to arrest."

    Rep. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, who argued for lowering the criminal bar from one ounce to half an ounce, attacked HB3643 as short-sighted and wasteful of limited state money.

    "We are not going to arrest our way out of the drug problem," said Prozanski, a former Lane County prosecutor.

    Rep. George Eighmey, D-Portland, wanted to create the medical defense for marijuana use. "Only people who are truly suffering would be able to use the defense," Eighmey said.

    Rep. John Minnis, R-Wood Village, a Portland police officer and chairman of the committee that sent the bill to the full House, said recriminalizing marijuana was not the answer, just a part of it. It sends an important message, Minnis said, "that possession of marijuana is in fact a crime and it is not to be tolerated."

    Also speaking in favor of the bill was Rep. Ben Westlund, R-Bend, who was arrested more than 10 years ago for drunken driving and possession of cocaine. The arresting officer was Minnis.

    Westlund, who fought his case to the state Supreme Court before losing, said the arrest helped him turn his life around. "I was held accountable for my actions," he said.


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