SALEM — After a week of growling at each other in the press, one of Oregon’s most outspoken district attorneys against marijuana legalization and the legalization-supporting congressman who represents the Portland area had their first chance Friday to trade barbs in person.
Mostly, they traded numbers.
Oregon would take at least $10 million in revenue, 25 percent would go to law enforcement, and no people have died of a marijuana overdose, said U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore. “This is an opportunity to get our priorities straight,” Blumenauer said. “These are the same arguments we heard 90 years ago about alcohol.”
There are fewer than 100 people in prison for marijuana in Oregon and 60,000 medical marijuana patients, and Denver is awash in 600 retail marijuana stores since Colorado legalized the drug, replied Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis. “The most disturbing thing is the argument that marijuana has absolutely no downside,” Marquis said. “Why would we want to introduce another drug?”
The campaign for legalization in Oregon has all the makings of a political campaign, with marijuana as its candidate. Replete with opposition research, concerns about its legal history, and questions about scientific validity, the drug itself — not its tax impact nor the disproportionate incarceration of its users who are minorities — is at the crux of the legalization debate.
Marquis said he’s not opposed to people smoking marijuana in their homes. He once did, as a college student in Eugene. He has argued against the federal classification of marijuana among its most dangerous drugs.
But Marquis said he worries about people driving under the influence and legal pot getting into the hands of children.
Blumenauer replied that the existing black market for marijuana makes children’s access much easier. “It’s easier for a 6-year-old girl to get a joint than a 12-pack,” Blumenauer said.
The measure would legalize marijuana in Oregon and put the revenue toward schools, law enforcement, and drug treatment and mental health, and will appear on the ballot in November.
Last week, Blumenauer and Marquis traded sharp words over whether upcoming events featuring national anti-drug activist Kevin Sabet shortly before mail ballots go out to voters amounted to political activity, and whether federal funds could be used to finance the events.
Blumenauer said it was political activity. Marquis called Blumenauer a bully. The state pulled the federal drug education dollars it planned for the event and its employees who had been slated to moderate panels. The Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association made up some of the money with a $15,000 check.
Because this is Oregon, the debate didn’t break down along traditional red-blue party lines, instead featuring a Democratic attorney general who is lenient on personal marijuana use among adults and an even further-left Democratic congressman who supports taxing and regulating the drug.
The wave of legalization, Blumenauer said, is coming to the rest of the country.
Marquis laughed. “If you think in South Carolina or North Dakota or Nebraska, that they’re about to legalize marijuana,” Marquis said, “well, I won’t say you’re smoking something.”
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