Oregon has now joined the growing list of states that have fully legalized marijuana.
In November of 2014 the voters of Oregon approved Measure 91, with 56 percent of the vote, ending marijuana prohibition and legalizing recreational use. Under the terms of that initiative, marijuana officially became legal in Oregon last week, on July 1, 2015, allowing adults to possess up to eight ounces of marijuana in the home and up to one ounce outside the home; and to cultivate up to four plants per household, out of public view.
The state has until Jan. 1, 2016 to issue regulations regarding the issuance of licenses to commercially cultivate and sell recreational marijuana, and retail outlets are expected to be open by late 2016. In an attempt to provide a legal supply of recreational marijuana more quickly, the legislature just approved a proposal that will permit the existing legal medical marijuana dispensaries to begin selling marijuana to recreational users on as Oct. 1, 2015. It is great to see the state legislature make a special effort to implement the will of the voters in a timely manner.
The Smell of Freedom
On the eve of the end of marijuana prohibition in Oregon, Portland NORML organized a midnight celebration (and seed give-away, now legal in Oregon) on Burnside Bridge, under the iconic Portland, Oregon sign, where thousands of celebrants exercised their First Amendment rights, and lit-up en masse, as the clock struck midnight. The Portland police were present but allowed those gathered to enjoy this moment in history and made no arrests for public smoking, despite the huge cloud of marijuana smoke rising from the bridge. It seemed like an appropriate way to celebrate the end of prohibition in Oregon.
Portland NORML Executive Director Russ Belville issued a statement thanking the police for exercising discretion and not hassling the celebrants, and making it clear the job of legalizers is not yet complete in Oregon. “We have achieved legalization. Now we seek equalization. We will not stop until we have the same rights as beer drinkers and cigar smokers,” Belville said, noting marijuana consumers still need protection from job discrimination, so they don’t lose their jobs for marijuana smoking, unless they come to work in an impaired condition; protection for parental rights, so marijuana smokers are no longer presumed to be unfit parents, without evidence of abuse or neglect; and protection of Second Amendment rights, so smokers do not lose their right to own guns.
Oregon now joins Colorado, Washington, Alaska and the District of Columbia as states in which marijuana is fully legal. It is no longer contraband, nor can the smell of marijuana any longer be used as probable cause to search a vehicle, or to obtain a search warrant to search a person’s home. Legalizing marijuana accomplishes more than simply making it legal for us to smoke; it returns basic Constitutional protections to those of us who smoke marijuana responsibly.
And the Oregon model is, for the moment, the most progressive of the first few legalization laws, in terms of the quantity of marijuana products permitted. In addition to the eight ounces and four plants permitted in the home, it covers all forms of marijuana, including edibles and tinctures, allowing an individual to legally possess up to one pound of solid edibles, 72 ounces of infused liquids, and one ounce of concentrates or extracts. That should satisfy even the most enthusiastic users.
It is especially heartening to see the state legislature now building on the voter-approved legalization by enacting legislation to undo some of the damage previously inflicted by marijuana prohibition. On July 2nd Governor Kate Brown signed HB 3400 into law, reducing most marijuana offenses that remain on the books from a felony to a misdemeanor, and providing for many prior marijuana convictions to be set aside, sentences reduced, and records sealed. An estimated 78,000 marijuana convictions may be eligible for reduced sentencing or to be set-aside altogether under this latest legislation.
By taking care to provide relief to those citizens previously convicted of marijuana offenses no longer considered criminal, Oregon has shown the way for adopting legalization in a fair manner. And it will hopefully encourage legislators in the remaining legal states to adopt similar provisions. One should not be burdened with a criminal conviction for an offense that has since been legalized, and we have an ethical obligation to do what we can to minimize the damage done to so many of our fellow-smokers during prohibition. As Belville said in his release, our work is far from done with the adoption of basic legalization; now we seek to be treated in a fair manner in all aspects of our lives, and to end all discrimination based on our use of marijuana.