Marijuana has been mentioned in documents since humans learned to write. Oregon, as well as the rest of the world, has an evolving history with marijuana. Measure 80 is the latest attempt to legalize marijuana.
Hemp was first mentioned in China in approximately 4000 BC. Every society that recorded its utilization noted its diverse uses. Hempen fibers were used for making paper and clothing; oil from the seeds was used for food, beauty products, and making paints; and the seeds for food, medicine, and for its narcotic properties.
From the beginning British colonies in North America were required to plant at least some hemp to send back to England, where it was in great demand. Well into the 1840s growing hemp was encouraged by individual state laws and at times hemp was used in place of currency.
Hemp did not develop the bad reputation it has today until the early 1900s. The first laws restricting its use in individual states began appearing during prohibition. The first Federal law mentioning marijuana, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, levied a tax of one dollar on those who were commercially involved with hemp. Farmers continued to grow hemp (with the encouragement of the Federal government during WWII) until 1957.
The Boggs Act of 1952, and the Narcotics Control Act of 1956, criminalized the use of marijuana and outlined harsh mandatory penalties. The penalties were repealed in 1970. In 1972, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. In 1975, Alaska, California, and Colorado followed suit. Since then a total of 27 states have decriminalized the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.
In 1986, Oregon Ballot Measure 5 would have legalized growing marijuana for personal use. Since then there have been several other ballot measures along similar lines. This year’s version is particularly far reaching. In addition to legalizing growth of marijuana for personal use by adults, it sets up a system for the licensing of growers and distributors. It would also set up a system of stores similar to those run by the Oregon Liquor Commission. Measure 80 would also totally deregulate the growth of hemp for industrial uses (see full text at http://oregonvotes.org/irr/2012/009text.pdf) .
The majority of the arguments are the same as they have been in the past: marijuana use is harmless; it would save the money used to enforce current marijuana law ($61.5 million in law enforcement, corrections, and judicial costs). Measure 80 would free police to deal with “real” criminals; proponents claim it would generate approximately $140 million a year of which 90% of the proceeds would go into the state general fund, 7% for drug treatment programs, 1% each for drug education in public schools, and two new state commissions to promote hemp biofuel and hemp fiber and food.
The reasons for opposing the legalization of marijuana also remain the same. First of all, there is a moral consideration about using drugs in general. Other arguments against marijuana use are that it is a gateway drug that causes increases in crime levels, that legalization would encourage the use of marijuana by teenagers, that there would be an increase in healthcare costs due to people driving or going to work after using marijuana, or users might neglect their children. The least reasonable argument is that legalization of marijuana would lead to the legalization of all drugs.
Even if people are in favor of marijuana legalization, the question is should they vote for Measure 80? Measure 80 is a poorly written, rambling document that does not belong as a legal document. It is thorough in proscribing the details of the system it envisions. However, it makes unsupported implications that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and others influential in the creation of our nation used marijuana as a hallucinogenic. Quoting Genesis, and saying that since God gave man all living plants the government has no right to restrict its use, is perplexing.
The most troubling of the provisions in Measure 80, is the description of what would be called the Oregon Cannabis Commission. The first year the Measure would be in affect the governor would appoint the commission. After that “five commissioners shall be elected at large by growers and processors licensed under ORS 474.035 for a term of one year, and two commissioners shall be appointed by the Governor for a term of two years.” This would result in growers and processors policing themselves.
In the section describing the distribution of the monies generated by the measure it assigns one percent to the school districts to fund “appropriate” drug education. This program would teach children their social responsibilities to others, persuade students of refrain from using psychoactive drugs, provide accurate information of the affects drugs might have on their development, and persuade them that if, as an adult, they choose to use drugs they must still fulfill their social responsibilities to others.
If the people of Oregon want to legalize marijuana, Measure 80 is not the way to do it. Supporters of legalization would need to put forth a more rational document than this measure. The relationship Americans have with marijuana may be shifting to a more moderate stance, but Measure 80 is not the next step.