WHEN VOTERS passed Measure 91 on November 4, enshrining recreational marijuana in Oregon, proponents hugged and wept and shook their heads in disbelief.
They also offered a stern reminder: Weed isn't legal here. Not yet.
Measure 91 doesn't change the state's marijuana laws until July, meaning the enthusiastic supporters who enjoyed a toke (in private) on election night—their joints exclamation points on what proved an easy win—were technically risking a hefty ticket.
No longer. In Multnomah County, it's practically July already.
On Monday, November 10, Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill announced his office is done prosecuting many pot misdeeds.
"This office does not plan to prosecute future charges for conduct related to marijuana possession and delivery of marijuana which will become lawful under Measure 91 absent exceptional circumstances," the district attorney's office said in a statement first reported by the Mercury.
That means if you're 21, it's essentially legal for you to carry up to an ounce of weed on your person in Multnomah County. It's legal for you to grow up to four marijuana plants in your home, and to keep up to a half-pound of pot there, too, if you somehow need that much. You can bring an ounce of pot to a friend and not be charged as a drug dealer if you're not selling the stuff (it's illegal to purchase recreational pot until the state sets up a marketplace). And, of course, it's legal for you to use marijuana—so long as it's not in public.
In its announcement, the DA's office revealed it was also dismissing active charges that will cease to be unlawful next year. That affects 50 cases, the release said. Since Oregon decriminalized low-level possession decades ago, the vast majority of dismissed charges are violations akin to a traffic ticket, Underhill's office says.
(If you already pleaded guilty to a pot charge, you're probably out of luck.)
The prosecutor's decision is a nod to the will of the voters, and to common sense. It's also likely to be mimicked in other parts of the state. Sources in Clackamas County say District Attorney John Foote plans to make a similar announcement in coming weeks, and will look into dismissing outstanding pot charges on a case-by-case basis. Washington County District Attorney Bob Hermann didn't return a message seeking comment.
There is one wrinkle, though. Just because you're not going to be prosecuted for Measure 91-related activity doesn't mean you can't be ticketed—even arrested—for it.
Portland Police Bureau spokesman Sergeant Pete Simpson says the bureau is still hammering out how it's going to respond to Measure 91 before the law actually changes.
Cops have asked the city attorney's office for clarification on the mechanics of the measure, and have held off giving any new marching orders to officers.
But Simpson adds it's rare for cops to target many of these activities right now. And he'd be surprised if officers are itching to issue a ticket for the weed in your pocket, knowing that the ticket's just going to get tossed.
"The likelihood is that will not be happening from the officers on the street," Simpson says. "It doesn't happen to a large degree, anyway. It hasn't for a long time."