Oregon Misses An Opportunity To Improve Its Cannabis Law
Oregon voters approved cannabis legalization in November 2014. At the time Oregon Measure 91 passed by the widest margin of victory on record for a cannabis legalization initiative. California now holds that distinction, but bragging rights are secondary to the fact that cannabis prohibition has been ended in both states, which is what really counts.
In many measurable ways cannabis legalization has worked for the State of Oregon. In 2016 alone, Oregon’s cannabis industry brought in over 60 million dollars in tax revenue, which surpassed initial projections. Oregon’s cannabis industry now supports over 12,500 jobs, with total annual wages exceeding $315 million. The State of Oregon has also saved an enormous sum of money by not enforcing the failed public policy that is cannabis prohibition. Law enforcement has since been freed up to combat real crime instead of busting people for a plant that is safer than alcohol.
Oregon’s cannabis law still needs improving, with one big hole in the law revolving around social cannabis use. Cannabis is still prohibited outside of private settings in Oregon, which creates problems for many Oregonians and tourists. Establishments and events that are open to the public, even when there is a cover fee, are required to prohibit cannabis consumption on-site. Similar public consumption laws are on the books in states that have voted to legalize, such as Washington State, where arrest data clearly shows that there continues to be a disproportionate impact on minority communities.
The unfortunate fact remains that when cannabis is prohibited even on a limited basis, selective enforcement will likely still occur. Oregon Senate Bill 307 was introduced this legislative session to help address that issue. The bill was originally aimed at legalizing cannabis lounges and provide for temporary permits for consumption at events. The legislation would have helped patients by providing places to legally consume their medicine if they were away from home, and would have helped others stay in compliance with the law if they lived in a place that prohibited consumption, such as at a care facility, a rental property, or where federal law prohibits consumption (Section 8). The bill would have also helped travelers who can legally purchase cannabis, but are often prohibited from consuming their legal cannabis at the hotel they are staying at.
Portland Trail Blazer legend Cliff Robinson publicly endorsed SB 307, and was joined by Oregon Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (a family physician at OHSU), and the City of Portland. Oregon Senate Bill 307 received a significant amount of positive testimony at three public hearings because it was a sensible bill that would have benefited the State of Oregon and improved Oregon’s cannabis law. Unfortunately the opposition appears to have convinced enough members of the Oregon Legislature that the bill should not move forward, and that the bill is dead, at least for this legislative session.
The only way that the proposal could still advance this session is if the Joint Committee on Marijuana meets again, which is unlikely at best. This is clearly a missed opportunity. Team Cliffy gets that this is a new area of public policy, but social consumption reform is not unheard of. Other jurisdictions have already passed reforms and are in the process of implementing the public policy change. Team Cliffy, along with many Oregonians, can’t understand how minor concerns by ardent cannabis opponents, all of which can easily be mitigated, outweigh the social justice, economic, and compassionate reasons for passing SB 307.
SB 307 would not have lead to increased crime, just as other cannabis reforms have not led to increased crime. SB 307 would not have increased exposure and/or access to cannabis by youth because the very intent of the bill made it to where consumption would only be allowed where youth are not allowed. The US Centers for Disease Control have found that cannabis reform makes it harder for youths to gain access to cannabis, and SB 307 would have had the same effect. SB 307 would not have led to increased DUIs because consumption is already occurring in public settings in Oregon, and law enforcement would have been able to apply the same DUI protocols that they always have been able to apply in Oregon.
Opponents are basing their stances on the false assumption that if social use continues to be prohibited, that somehow that means that consumption will not occur. That ‘ostrich with its head in the sand’ approach is not realistic, and it results in continued disproportionate enforcement against some of Oregon’s most vulnerable communities. Team Cliffy is not giving up on this important issue, and plans to keep pushing for the public policy change because it is the right thing to do.
“It is unfortunate that Oregon SB 307 failed to pass this session. SB 307 would have improved Oregon’s cannabis policy and helped a lot of people, including those that don’t even consume cannabis. The bill would have increased compliance, which is a goal that everyone should want to work towards. I plan on continuing to support the effort in the future, and look forward to joining other advocates in continuing to push for this sensible reform moving forward.” said Cliff Robinson.