Activists Charge Oregon’s Largest Newspaper Sides With The DEA In Promoting Marijuana Recriminalization Bill

Drug reform activists fighting to save the state’s marijuana decriminalization law have charged The Oregonian with being a willful participant in the “War on Drugs” after the paper ran an editorial endorsing recriminalization that relied almost exclusively on a Drug Enforcement Administration handout.

The May 3 editorial supporting the current legislative effort to recriminalize marijuana in Oregon (H.B. 3643) stated that the “marijuana available today is maybe 60 times as potent as that of the 1960s.” This statement is almost identical to language that appeared in chapter one of a 1994 DEA pamphlet: “Drug Legalization: Myths and Misconceptions.” Ironically, annual evidence gathered from the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Potency Monitoring Project indicates that marijuana potency has remained relatively stable for almost the entire 20+ years it has been measured. According to a 1995 pamphlet from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services entitled Marijuana: Facts Parents Need to Know, “Most ordinary marijuana has an average of 3 percent THC.” This is virtually the same figure that NIDA reported in 1982 (3.34 percent).

The Oregonian editorial also relied heavily on the 1994 assumptions of Dr. Richard Schwartz of Georgetown University who argued in an unpublished paper that marijuana decriminalization encourages marijuana use. Schwartz’s findings also appeared in the DEA handout. However, according to the only federal study ever conducted regarding the impact of marijuana recriminalization on use (Monitoring the Future Occasional Paper 13: Marijuana Decriminalization: The Impact on Youth 1975-1980), Schwartz’s assumption is incorrect. The study’s conclusions are as follows:

  • The data show “absolutely no evidence … of any increase, relative to the control states, in the proportion of the age group who ever tried marijuana.”
  • “The degree of disapproval young people hold for marijuana use, to the extent which they believe such use is harmful, and the degree to which they perceive the drug to be available to them … [was] found to be unaffected by [decriminalization.]”
  • There exists no evidence “of an increase in the frequency of use in the marijuana-using segment of the population. … In fact, both groups of experimental states showed a small, cumulative net decline in lifetime prevalence as well as in annual and monthly prevalence after decriminalization.

Prior to the May 7 editorial, The Oregonian also printed a quote from Darin Campbell, lobbyist for the Oregon Association Chiefs of Police, who falsely implied that Oregon was the only state that maintains marijuana decriminalization. In reality, 10 of the 11 states that decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana in the l970s continue to remain decriminalized. These states presently represent one-third of the U.S. population.

“What justifies such bias and misleading sensationalism,” asked Portland NORML activist Phil Smith, a former writer for The Oregonian. “When will The Oregonian stop begin part of the problem and start being part of the solution?”

For more information, please contact Sandra Burbank of Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse at (808) 298-1031 or Richard Cowan of The Medical Marijuana Magazine at (213) 512-1527.