Legalized Marijuana: Gain Or Drain?

East Oregonian | Oct. 31, 2012 6:50 a.m. | Updated: Oct. 31, 2012 1:50 p.m.

Contributed By:

KATHY ANEY

Daily Astorian

Should pot smokers have the same rights as those using alcohol and cigarettes?

Opponents of Measure 80 say legalizing marijuana would lead to more criminal behavior, strained law enforcement budgets, carnage on the highways and more use among youth. Supporters argue that deregulation would unclog prisons, drive drug dealers out of business, create jobs, funnel money back into the state economy and launch a hemp industry.

Passage would allow sale of marijuana to people over 21 and create a Cannabis Commission to oversee cultivation and retail sales. Proceeds would go to the state’s general fund. Oregon is one of three states, along with Colorado and Washington, with measures to decriminalize marijuana on the November ballot.

Umatilla County Sheriff John Trumbo staunchly rejects the measure. Trumbo, who represents the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association, uses phrases such as “train wreck” and “marijuana advocate’s pipedream” to describe the notion of legalized cannabis.

“I think legalization would put a burden on law enforcement that we’re not ready to handle,” Trumbo said. “Proponents would have you believe there will be no increase in the number of people driving under the influence, that people will smoke joints at home and not get in their cars.”

He shook his head at that notion, remarking that bars licensed by the Cannabis Commission could sell marijuana the same as alcohol.

“If people will go to a bar now and drink to the point where they get arrested for driving under the influence of intoxicants, why do we think they won’t do the same thing with marijuana?” he asked.

Sandee Burbank, executive director of the Oregon medical marijuana group Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse (MAMA), has another point of view. She called current marijuana laws “inequitable, ineffective, counterproductive and illogical.”

“Cannabis policy in general makes no sense,” Burbank said. “Why should adults 21 and older be treated any differently than adults who use alcohol and cigarettes? Tobacco kills more people than all the other drugs put together.”

Burbank has a medical marijuana card which allows her to use cannabis in various forms (topical rubbing oil, salve, capsules, smoked or cooked into food) to ease foot pain and other side effects of her type 2 diabetes. If the law passes, she said, more people could explore the medicinal benefits.

Erin Purchase, formerly of Pendleton, agrees with Burbank. Her 7-year-old daughter MyKayla, who has lymphoblastic leukemia, uses a cannabis concentrate to combat the nausea of chemotherapy. The family moved to Portland to stay close to MyKayla as she undergoes treatment. Purchase supports legalizing marijuana.

“I think it is good not only because of the medical benefits of this plant, but also hemp is going to give the state so much opportunity and revenue,” she said.

Purchase referred to the part of the measure that allows for industrial hemp, used for textiles, seed oil, plastics, fuel and other products.

John Shafer, who lives in Athena and works for the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Department, doesn’t see any upside. He said legalized marijuana would prove to be a net drain on society and could increase the number of fatalities on Oregon’s highways.

He paraphrased Alan Crancer, retired research analyst for the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, as saying marijuana, if legalized, could overtake alcohol as the deadliest drug on the road.

“The marijuana lobby’s claim that pot is safer than alcohol and never killed anyone is just plain wrong,” Shafer said.

He called marijuana a gateway drug that puts developing brains at peril. One study, he said, showed an average IQ decline of eight points for teens who continue using into adulthood.

The argument may be moot. Even pro-pot groups express little hope the Oregon measure will pass even though the state was one of the first to allow medicinal marijuana use. A SurveyUSA poll indicated the measure failing 43-36 percent with 21 percent undecided. Even if it does pass, the laws might not pass muster on the federal level where marijuana remains illegal.

Allen St. Pierre, director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), gives the Washington and Colorado’s measures a chance of passing, but called Oregon’s measure “overly broad” and “a huge catchall.” He doesn’t expect it to fly.

“I wouldn’t have written the bill the same way,” St. Pierre said. “However, if I was an Oregonian, I’d vote for it as sure as I’d take my next breath.”

Contact Kathy Aney at kaney@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0810.

This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.

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