Cannabis wasn't always illegal. Its legal use goes back more than 7,000 years, as medicine, fiber, and food.
As recently as 1850, the US Census counted over 8,000 hemp plantations—"plantation" meaning a farm of more than 2,000 acres. The first state to outlaw it, believe it or not, was California in 1913. Oregon followed in 1923. The reasons were multifold, but as with many actions taken by this country, they were based on fear, racism, and greed.
The first laws against cannabis use were directed at Mexicans and African Americans. Deeming it "loco weed," newspapers ran editorials that demonized cannabis and those who used it, printing such well-researched statements as: "Marihuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on the white men's shadows, and look at a white woman twice" (as Hearst editorialized in 1935).
In 1930, the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics was formed as a division of the US Treasury, and Harry Anslinger was named its director. Anslinger was a truly vile prick who frequently quoted from his "Gore File"—a collection of lurid tales about the effects of cannabis that gave us enlightening assertions like, "Reefer makes darkies think they're as good as white men." (To read more about this and really bum yourself out, pick up The Emperor Wears No Clothes by Jack Herer.)
Since then, we have made some progress. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia now have medical marijuana programs, and many cities have reduced the penalties for recreational use. This year, Colorado and Washington have both rolled out fully legal recreational use.
So what about Oregon? We've had the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) since 1998, so surely we have no issues with use and prosecution, right?
Far from it. Here are some numbers (because if there's anything pot smokers excel at, it's math!):
• In 2010, Oregon spent over $50 million enforcing marijuana possession laws, resulting in 12,318 arrests and citations. (In 2012, that number rose to 12,808.)
• Ninety percent of the arrests in 2010 were for less than one ounce.
• Marijuana arrests accounted for 54.6 percent of drug arrests.
• And—surprise!—African Americans were 2.1 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.
Even the New York Times has come out for legalization. So where are we at in Oregon?
On July 22, an initiative from New Approach Oregon qualified for the fall ballot, topping a required count of 87,213 valid signatures.
New Approach's proposal would hand the Oregon Liquor Control Commission control of regulating, licensing, auditing, and inspecting the cultivation and distribution of cannabis to adults 21 and older. There would be controls over advertising and the amount of cannabis purchased, while tax revenues would be split among three groups: 40 percent to school funding, 35 percent to state and local police, and 25 percent to drug treatment, prevention, and mental health programs. According to ECONorthwest, Oregon would generate $38.5 million in excise tax revenue in its first year, and $78.7 million over the first two years.
Next week, we'll talk with New Approach, and learn more about how its proposal will work for consumers.