Cannabis Reform Debated in Salem, Oregon


In case you missed it, there was another riveting debate on cannabis reform that took place in Salem, Oregon on September 12, 2014 The debate was on the impending ballot measure, Measure 91, which would legalize the use of recreational cannabis. On the side of legalization was Congressman Earl Blumenauer, D-OR, and on the side of prohibition was Clatsop County DA Josh Marquis.

Skip to the 20 minute mark of the video for the start of the debate. And for those of you that don’t have time to watch footage of the debate, here are some highlights:


Opening Statements

Opens by claiming that cannabis is one of the least dangerous drugs out there and cites a study by the National Institutes of Health that says tobacco has a 32 percent addiction rate while heroin has 23 percent, cocaine 17  percent,  alcohol 15 percent and cannabis 9 percent.

He goes on to say that prohibition disproportionately affects minorities and that African Americans are four times likely to get arrested  for cannabis despite equal use from white people. He closes by saying that cannabis prohibition breeds disrespect for law enforcement; and that it makes no sense to keep a law that we no longer have the will to enforce.

Chooses to use his opening statement to dispel the idea that people in Oregon are getting arrested over cannabis. According to Marquis, out of the 12,000 cannabis-related police incidents, over 10,000 are simply citations.

With regards to the idea that blacks are disproportionately affected, he compares the African American disenfranchisement rate in Florida and Oregon. In Florida, African Americans make up 17 percent of Florida’s population, but they represent 25 percent of total disenfranchisement in the state. In Oregon, Africans Americans make up three percent of Oregon, but only make up 2.5 percent of total disenfranchisement.


Questions to Blumenauer and Marquis

Washington and Colorado allow individuals to posses up to one ounce of marijuana. Colorado allows individuals to grow up to six plants for personal use while Washington does not. Do the state to state differences really matter?

Blumenauer claims it doesn’t. He contends that marijuana is already available, so why not regulate it so we can keep it out of the hands of children, defund criminal enterprise, and so people can know what they’re buying.

Marquis calls into question the motivations of the people pushing measure 91. He claims that the majority of the money being spent is from out of state. He goes on to say that he does not care if adults smoke marijuana, but that he thinks legalization will increase access to minors and that the bill is too broadly written.


What changes do you expect to see in MJ consumption in the future?

He states the obvious: more people would use it. He goes on to say that we alcohol and tobacco are legal and taxed; he then asks the question: How is that working out for us?

He states that marijuana is widely available and there are no checks and balances. In 5-10 years, people will know what they get. There will be more resources to deal with addiction and education. He draws a parallel to tobacco.  To curb tobacco use, we didn’t outlaw it; we taxed it and educated the public. Blumenauer claims that’s what we should do with marijuana.


Closing Remarks

Blumenauer uses his closing statement to say that this is a time to get our priorities straight.  He goes on to say that prohibition didn’t work with alcohol and it’s not working with marijuana. Blumenauer contends at least legalization will keep marijuana out of the hands of children.

Marquis uses his opening statement to say that the people pushing Measure 91 are trying to deceive voters into thinking that people are getting arrested for marijuana in Oregon when they’re not.  According to Marquis, Measure 91 is too broadly written and the campaign is funded by out of state interests. He closes by imploring the audience to believe him because he has no financial interest in this, while his opponents do.

It was interesting to listen to Marquis’s arguments as they weren’t the regular prohibitionist talking points. Instead of arguing against marijuana itself, he dismantled Representative Blumenauer’s individual arguments. On that front, he did very well, but he failed to illustrate why keeping marijuana illegal was a better idea.

Conversely, Blumenauer made compelling arguments for marijuana legalization, but not specifically why Measure 91 in Oregon was a good idea. His broad arguments make great talking points, but he failed to tailor his arguments for a state level discussion.

In the end it was a rousing, yet respectful, debate. Assuredly both sides will want to claim victory; and in their own ways they did. According to a recent Survey USA poll, Oregon’s marijuana advocates hold a slight lead at 51 percent. With such a slight lead, debates like this certainly carry added importance. It is anyone’s guess how residents of Oregon will vote in the upcoming election; until then, the cannabis industry holds its breath in anticipation.

William Sumner, a freelance writer and marijuana journalist, was a staff writer for MJINews from May 2014 through February 2018. You can follow him on Twitter @W_Sumner.

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