Measure 91 passed fairly easily in the November election, much to the celebration of the individuals and groups that had been working hard for its passage. The measure benefited from overwhelming support in Multnomah County, which is home to around 20 percent of expected voters statewide. The final tally was approximately fifty-five percent in favor of the measure with forty-five percent opposed. Measure 91, which will not take actual legal effect until July 1, 2015, allows adults 21 and older to possess one ounce in public and up to eight ounces at home, as well as a variety of other marijuana-infused products. It also allows a household to grow up to 4 plants for personal use, and plants must be kept out of public view. Public usage of marijuana will be prohibited. Driving while under the influence of marijuana is going to be an interesting subject to sort out. And Multnomah County prosecutors are dropping all marijuana-related charges that will become legal next July.
Oregon’s Measure 91 borrowed elements from both the Washington and Colorado laws. It is very important to note that it is much more lenient than the statutes in Washington state. In those two states recreational marijuana legalization is an ongoing experiment, and it will be an experiment in Oregon as well. The nature of experiments is that you do not know ahead of time exactly how they will turn out in detail. There will be ongoing, unknown complexities.
For example, one issue that has been little discussed is how marijuana will be addressed on the seven Native American reservations in the state of Oregon. In Washington state, there has been significant controversy centered around marijuana prosecutions on Native American reservations. It is often forgotten by the general public that these have the authority to maintain their own laws regarding marijuana usage and many other legal issues.
A leading case is the Yakama Nation, which has a large 1.2 million–acre reservation in south-central Washington, and has come down firmly against legalizing marijuana. In addition it has also expressed intent to ban marijuana even on all of its lands which it ceded to the federal government. This additional massive area includes 10 counties and several cities. Harry Smiskin, the Yakama Nation’s Tribal Council chairman, told the Yakima Herald that the treaty of 1855 entitles the tribe to fight any marijuana business seeking to open on its ceded lands.
“We’re merely exercising what the treaty allows us to do, and that is prevent marijuana grows (and sales) on those lands,” Smiskin told the newspaper.
Another issue also connected to Washington state will be the question of de facto “marijuana tourism” involving citizens of Washington traveling to Oregon to obtain marijuana. Despite the change in laws, it is still difficult to obtain it legally there. It must be remembered that the regulations in that state are much more restrictive, and this is heavily impacting the supply of legal material in Oregon.
Even now in Seattle it can be difficult to find legal marijuana for sale. This stricter approach to regulating marijuana growers and retailers has resulted in only 60 marijuana-store licenses having been granted through September of this year. It is also unclear exactly how many of these enterprises have even opened for business. The end result is that some marijuana store owners feel that the regulations and quite scarce supply of legal material are making it very difficult to pilot the industry away from the black market and towards generating revenue.
There are many other unknowns within the Measure 91 experiment. For instance, will the price of legal marijuana in Oregon be competitive with the black market? What will be the ultimate tax revenue impact when it is all said and done? Will more employers mandate random drug testing, or will it actually decrease? And crucial to parents, what will the impact be on children, especially via edible marijuana products, which can be made to be very tasty and appealing? What is certain is that the people of Oregon have made their decision via the democratic process, and the experiment in some ways is already unfolding.
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