Willamette Week, April 30, 1997, p. 9

Rogue of the Week

We're not going to get into the marijuana legalization debate here, but we believe that the 43 members of the state House who passed a bill to recriminalize possession of a joint deserve a Rogue this week.

It's not that House Bill 3643 is vile. There are much worse bills making their way to the governor's desk. But the overwhelming support for the legislation wasn't the result of reasoned debate. It was pure politics that wasted a lot of time and energy while ignoring real issues about drug abuse.

Current Oregon law says that possession of less than an ounce of pot is a violation, something along the lines of a traffic ticket. Supporters of HB 3643 say this sends the wrong message to kids. Bumping possession up to a misdemeanor, they say, sends the right message - that marijuana use will not be tolerated.

There is no evidence, however, that Oregon's "lenient" possession law leads to more drug use by teens. In fact, the rise in marijuana use by teens in Oregon mirrors national trends, according to surveys. There are indications, however, that teen-agers in some Oregon communities are using more-serious drugs - such as methamphetamines - at alarming rates.

It's hard to see how the new law would keep teens from taking a toke. Both prosecutors and police say they'll continue treating possession of small amounts as a violation. No one would go to jail. "You can't say it's not a problem," says Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schrunk, "but there's a lot more pressing things."

Recriminalizing marijuana could also lead to selective enforcement, something of grave concern to minority communities that already feel targeted by the police.

The bill is expected to sail through the Senate and be signed by Gov. John Kitzhaber. Politicians will be able to say they took a strong stand against drugs, without doing anything that really helps kids heading into serious addiction.

The following metro-area representatives voted for recriminalization:

Republicans: Ron Adams, Tom Brian, Chuck Carpenter, Jane Lokan, John Minnis, Lynn Snodgrass, Charles Starr, Ken Strobeck, Ron Sunseri;

Democrats: Margaret Carter, Ryan Deckert, Richard Devlin, Randall Edwards, Lonnie Roberts, Frank Shields, Larry Sowa.



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