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Public divided on push to legalize pot

Oregonians will vote in November on Measure 91


On the cusp of what might become a new approach to Oregon drug policy, local opinion is split over the legalization of recreational marijuana.

The initiative would allow adults 21 years and older to possess up to 8 ounces of marijuana, and personal cultivation of up to four plants. A tax of $35 per ounce on all marijuana flowers and $10 per ounce on all marijuana leaves would be implemented and use in public settings would be prohibited.

With a similar initiative on the ballot back in 2012, the surrounding buzz has died down, said Gresham Police Chief Craig Junginger.

“It looks like people are moving toward favoring it,” he said. “It is two years later and there have also been two other states that have approved it.”

After legalization in Washington and Colorado, “We’re probably next,” said Josh Plotner, an employee at Oregon Glass Source, a smoke shop on Powell Boulevard. Plotner said he thinks the majority of people would like to see it passed.

“It needs to happen,” said Ciera Lankins, 18, of Gresham.

Lankin’s friend, 19-year-old Joanna Ratliff said, “I use it to medicate, and it’s cheaper than antidepressants.”

When one bottle of antidepressants can cost $500 for a 30-day supply, Ratliff said, “You go buy weed for $20 and you’re good for a while.”

While having lunch with a friend in Gresham, Bud M., 68, who lives in Vancouver, Wash., where recreational use is legal, said “I don’t see a problem with it. I just grew up in a generation where it was considered bad.”

Rhonda W., 48, of Gresham has mixed feelings, saying “I think medically it’s OK, but I don’t want it just to be out there for anyone to use.” Rhonda, a grandmother, worries about kids getting their hands on it.

Bud and Rhonda were approached by The Outlook, and only agreed to comment on the condition that their last names not be used.

Other people are taking a different approach.

“I’d rather have my son smoking marijuana than drinking alcohol,” said Lyndon Cox, a Troutdale resident.

Some were firm in their belief that legalizing a drug would have a negative impact.

“I think it’s crock,” said Dave Tillstrom, 65, of Damascus. “It’s another step in a downward spiral. Pretty soon, they’ll start legalizing other drugs. It’s just not the answer.”

Tillstrom, who used to work with college students, disagrees with people who say there are no ill effects from marijuana.

“Their minds get dull, I’ve watched it,” he said. “It changes them.”

Patricia Lawrence, 38, of Sandy said people are not doing a good enough job of predicting potential consequences.

“I think it poses a whole new set of problems being that it’s addictive and has health risks,” she said.

While some have their minds made up, others have taken a wait-and-see approach.

“I’m on the fence,” said Dena Schulz, 42, of Gresham. “I’m not crazy about throwing drugs out there, but potheads aren’t known for causing a big ruckus.”

“Clearly there are so many variables out there that it is hard to predict exactly what will happen and what impacts it will have on our city and state and society as a whole,” said Lori Stegmann, president of the Gresham City Council.

“Until it comes into effect, we don’t know what the cause and effect will be,” Junginger added.

However, “If passed in November, at least we have other states that have legalized before us to look to,” Stegmann said.

Both Colorado and Washington passed initiatives in 2012 legalizing marijuana.

Now, seven months after the first retail store opened in Colorado, overall crime rates in Denver have dropped 10.1 percent from 2013. Additionally, $10.8 million in tax revenue was seen in the first four months according to a Drug Policy Alliance status report.

As of early July when marijuana went on sale, Washington’s slow start to revenue has been attributed to a 25-percent tax on the producer, processor and retailer, as well as easy-to-get medical marijuana, and a mere 24 licenses issued of 334 available.

Regardless, Gresham police officers are gearing up for the outcome of the vote.

“We will operate according to whatever the legal process is if it passes,” Junginger said.

Modeled after Washington, The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) would regulate marijuana.

In terms of additional training for police, everything will depend on what the law looks like and what it allows, said Lt. Claudio Grandjean, public information officer for the Gresham Police Department. “I don’t believe we will need additional training if it passes. Measuring marijuana in drivers is done now, so that won’t be any different.”

A 2010 Oregon State Police annual crime report cited more than 12,000 marijuana related arrests in Oregon.

Despite Multnomah County producing the third highest amount of those arrests, Grandjean remains unsure of whether legalizing cannabis will give officers more time for other work.

“There aren’t a ton of resources dedicated to marijuana enforcement as it is now, so I can’t imagine it freeing up officers,” he said. “If anything, there is potential for a need for more enforcement depending on how dispensaries are regulated.”

When accounting for sales/transportation, dispensaries and grow houses that would crop up, “It could create more problems,” Junginger said. “We’ll have to work closely with the OLCC to work through any issues that we might find.”

As of now, Oregonians are traveling over the state line to purchase pot.

“Why not bring that money here,” said Kevin Hays, 31, of Gresham.

A study by ECONorthwest, based in Portland, an estimated $38.5 million could be raised in excise tax during the first fiscal year. This would go toward drug treatment and prevention, state and local police and school funding.

“Think about how many jobs and revenue it’s going to make,” said Justin Wiley, 26, of Gresham. “We need an economic boom and this would give us money to fund schools.”

Wiley, said he is definitely for legalizing pot, noted, “There’s no secret that people in Portland like to smoke weed. So there’s a huge market.”

If passed, sales of marijuana for recreational use could begin in January 2016.



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