PDXS, Volume 7, Number 14, October 24-November 13, 1997, pp. 3-4

Marijuana Law Headed For Ballot

At an October 16th press conference in front of the downtown Justice Center, Citizens for Sensible Law Enforcement called their successful referral of the marijuana "re-criminalization" bill an important step towards undoing a serious legislative mistake. The bill, HB 3643, passed by the 1997 Oregon Legislature, imposes criminal penalties, including jail time, for the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. Under current law, which will remain in effect until the vote, marijuana possession is a non-criminal "violation" punishable by a fine of $500 to $1000. The successful petition drive will allow Oregonians to vote on the law at the1998 General Election.

The referendum's Chief Petitioners were joined by three legislators who support the effort - Portland State Senator Kate Brown, Portland State Representative George Eighmey, and Eugene State Representative Floyd Prozanski

Prozanski, who works as a municipal prosecutor in Lane County, was a prominent critic of HB 3643 during the 1997 session. "Attaching criminal penalties to the possession of under an ounce of marijuana is just wrong-headed public policy," he said. "There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that making the possession of small amounts of marijuana a crime will do anything to reduce use. What it will do is waste millions of dollars as well as valuable police time and effort. It will also clog the court system and waste jail space on non violent offenders. If we are truly interested in reducing drug use among young people - and I am - we must be pro-active in our efforts to provide Oregon's youth a quality education, not a defense attorney."

Eighmey said that the re-criminalization bill showed misplaced priorities: "There are so many better ways to spend this money if you truly want to keep kids off of drugs. Education, prevention and treatment can all make a real difference. That makes a lot more sense than this bill, which does nothing but try to score political points at the expense of good policy."

Brown, an attorney with a specialty in juvenile law, expressed concern about the potential impact on children and families. "Putting young people and their families through the criminal justice system for this kind of violation is unnecessary, cruel and pointless," she said.

Co-Chief Petitioner and attorney Michael Rose agreed with Brown: "I've seen first-hand what happens to young people who get put through the criminal justice system. Nobody should think that it's a good thing to do in these cases."

The re-criminalization law also has serious financial ramifications, both for the people who are arrested and for the government. Under the existing law, the government cannot seize the property of people cited for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana. But if the law takes effect, people busted for a couple joints can lose their cars, boats, homes and other property, just like those accused of dealing such dangerous drugs as heroin, cocaine and meth.

Such seizures will be used to fund the law. The Legislature estimated it could cost up to $3.5 million to arrest, prosecute and jail people for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana over the next two years. But the Legislature only appropriated $600,000 to fund the law, meaning the rest would have to be raised by the various law enforcement agencies who would enforce it. Forfeitures are the most obvious source of these funds. But if the voters reject the law in 1998, the state's $600,000 can be spent on something better - like drug treatment.

Referendum supporters say that the number of signatures is significant. They gathered over 90,000 signatures in a mere five weeks, suggesting that a significant number of Oregonians oppose re-criminalizing marijuana. "The response to our signature gathering effort was truly amazing," said co-chief petitioner Todd Olson. "There is no question that Oregon voters have serious doubts about what the legislature has done, and want a chance to make this decision for themselves."

Prozanski said that the most important outcome of the referendum's qualification is that voters will have the opportunity to decide this issue directly. "This bill is a major change of a policy that has been working for over 24 years."

To support the anti-recriminalization campaign, send your donations to Citizens for Sensible Law Enforcement, PO Box 113-C, Portland OR 97205



Back to the All Politics Is Local page.

This URL: http://www.pdxnorml.org/PDXS_Marijuana_102497.html