The Oregonian, "News Update," Sunday, April 20, 1997, p. D2

House committee approves toughening marijuana law

SALEM - Possessing small amounts of marijuana in Oregon would carry a possible jail term for the first time in more than two decades under a bill approved by a House committee.

House Bill 4643, endorsed 7-4 by the House Judiciary Committee, goes to the full House for a vote. Rep. John Minnis, R-Wood Village, the committee chairman, said he expects the House will pass the bill.

In 1973, Oregon became the first state to remove criminal penalties for possessing less than one ounce of marijuana, making the offense a violation with a maximum $100 fine. The penalty later was increased to a minimum $500 fine.

Backers of HB3643 say today's marijuana is much more potent than that of the 1970s. They say the state needs to get tougher with what advocates say is a gateway drug to stronger illegal substances.

The measure would make possessing less than one ounce of marijuana a misdemeanor with a potential jail term of up to 30 days and a $1,000 fine. Defendants could choose to enter diversion programs under which charges would be dropped if they completed a treatment program.

Minnis said courts still could treat first offenses as noncriminal violations. "I don't see anybody doing 30 days in jail," he said. "The real emphasis is to give motivation for the courts for treatment efforts."

Minnis, a Portland police officer, said re-criminalizing the offense would give police officers authority for searches.

- The Associated Press


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