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Election Sidelights

Marijuana: an Avoidable Loss in Oregon

by FRED GARDNER

Paul Stanford, 52, is the author and prime mover behind Oregon’s marijuana legalization initiative, Measure 80, which had gotten 46.5 percent of the vote as of Sunday morning when I called to offer condolences.

“We came close,” he said.  “We won Portland by over 60 percent and they’ve still got about 100,000 Portland votes to count.  I think it’ll go above 47 percent when all those votes are counted.” Stanford did not sound downhearted. “Here’s an amazing thing,” he went on. “The day after the election the Oregonian, which had opposed us and called us all kinds of names, ran an editorial arguing that the legislature should now legalize and regulate marijuana!”

The billionaires Back East who put about $5 million into successful initiatives in Colorado and Washington state did not contribute to the Oregon legalization effort.  Stanford had implored them for help, to no avail. “If we’d had a half million dollars of outside support for advertising, we’d have won,” he says matter-of-factly.

He wound up providing almost all the money himself—about $400,000 for the signature drive that put Measure B on the ballot and $300,000 for a skeleton campaign staff, literature and ads. Stanford runs a chain of clinics, the Hemp and Cannabis Foundation (THCF), at which doctors confirm that patients  qualify to use cannabis as medicine under state law. The patients are pre-screened by staff and must have documentation of their qualifying diagnoses. THCF operates in Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Montana, and Michigan. Stanford spends a lot of time in the friendly skies. His detractors imply that he has made much more money than he spent on Measure 80. I suspect they’re wrong but I hope they’re right.

Stanford’s friends and staff are working class, his wife works, their three kids go to public school, they rent a modest house in a not-very-classy section of Portland. His business would have suffered in Oregon had Measure 80 passed —people would no longer have needed a doctor’s authorization and a license from the state to obtain marijuana— but Stanford undoubtedly would have adapted with a new business model. Legalization has been his political goal for more than 30 years. He said the wording of Measure 80 was “draft number 90-something” of the magnum-opus leaflet he has been fine-tuning for years. (He has a role model when it comes to rewriting. The late Jack Herer was staying at Stanford’s Portland apartment in the mid-1980s when he produced the first draft of The Emperor Wears No Clothes.)

“I applaud the success of Colorado’s and Washington’s legalization initiatives,” Stanford said. He thinks the new law in Washington might inspire the Oregon legislature to act.  The Nov. 7 Oregonian editorial acknowledged that there would soon be “a dependable supply of legally obtainable pot available within a short drive of downtown Portland,” adding, “We’re going to need a new bridge, pronto.” (Knowing that marijuana is not a dangerous drug and eager to signal their own hipness, journalists frequently make light of the subject.)

The Oregonian went on: “Assuming everything goes as planned, Washington’s liquor control board will adopt rules by the end of 2013 for the licensing of marijuana producers, processors and retailers. Marijuana stores will proliferate and people 21 and older will be able to buy up to an ounce at a time. Because Oregonians will be free to buy Washington pot, many will, and they’ll drive it right back into Oregon… Our neighbor to the north will collect millions of dollars in new ‘sin’ taxes, with much of the money coming from Oregonians who’d be happy to keep their business and taxes in state if given the opportunity.”

The editorialists anticipate another ballot initiative from Paul Stanford and suggest that the legislature beat him to the punch. “Lawmakers could refer a better proposal to the ballot, then wash their hands of it. [sic.] This would allow elected officials to draw up something that safeguards the state and the public to the greatest extent possible and establishes favorable tax rates for marijuana.”

One aspect of Washington’s new law that Stanford does not want to see imported into Oregon is the “per se” definition of impaired driving —a blood level exceeding 5 nanograms per milliliter THC. Starting December 6, 2012, drivers suspected of impairment by a police officer in the state of Washington will be forced to submit to a blood test or else give up their licenses for a year. Driving with a blood level of more than five nanograms THC per milliliter of blood will constitute a DUI drugs offense. Those under 21 will be guilty if found to have any THC in their blood while driving.

The science linking 5 nanograms THC per /milliliter of blood to impaired driving ability is dubious, and the punishment seems very severe. It will create blatant inequality under the law because the amount of time THC remains in the body depends on body fat, which varies from person to person. (Women typically have about 30% more than men.) Defense lawyers will challenge the per se definition of impairment on various grounds, but if the courts uphold it, countless lives will be badly disrupted in the name of “legalization.” Stanford says, “I don’t know why they put the DUI limit it in there. I don’t think they needed it. Look at how close we came without it.”

I-502 had been drafted by professional campaign consultants hired by Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance and Graham Boyd of the American Civil Liberties Union, who are funded by George Soros and Peter Lewis, “progressive billionaires” based Back East. The leader of the campaign in Seattle was ACLU attorney Allison Holcomb. A prominent supporter was Rick Steves, the well liked travel advocate. Steves made a $50,000 contribution to the I-502 campaign, which helped shield Team Soros from any carpetbagger charge. (George Zimmer of the Fremont-based Men’s Warehouse had made a similar contribution in 1996 when Soros backed Prop 215 in California. I guarantee it.)

A group called Sensible Washington had drafted a more liberal legalization measure, but without money for a signature drive, failed to make the ballot. Many Sensible Washington backers, including Seattle Hempfest organizer Vivian Mc Peak, lawyers Jeffrey Steinborn and Doug Hiatt, and journalist Steve Elliott, called for a “no” vote on I-502. They saw the inclusion of a “per se” DUI based on a blood test as an affront and a threat —especially the zero tolerance for drivers under 21.

The day after the election Sensible Washington’s Anthony Martinelli sent out a warning:

We urge individuals to take extra precaution, because this limit has nothing to do with impairment. Probable cause is at the discretion of the officer, and there’s only so much you can do to avoid getting a DUID under this provision. Consider taking these extra steps before driving:

▪ Never drive with a cannabis-friendly bumper sticker

▪ Do a quick inspection of your vehicle, making sure there are no obvious problems, like broken taillights.

▪ Make sure that you do not smell like cannabis when you leave the home –use deodorant, perfume, etc., even if you haven’t smoked in hours. The slightest scent could give the officer reason to test your blood, and to assume you’ll be above the five —or, if you’re under 21, zero— ng/ml limits.

▪ Be cautious when driving with any amount of cannabis on your person, even if it’s under an ounce. Possessing even a gram is enough probable cause for an officer to search you, and test your blood.

▪ Understand that even if you consumed cannabis days ago, you may not be safe, and should take these precautions. Active THC lingers in the body for days, and we have no home test for individuals to determine if they’re below 5ng/ml before they drive.

Sensible Washington will work vigorously on making a change to this policy. The Legislature can’t alter it with a majority vote for two years (though they can with a two-thirds majority vote), but we will lobby our state’s house and senate to try and build support for a repeal of this mandate.

The Washington state legislature has more than a year to work out the mechanics of production and distribution through a network of state-run stores. The right to possess an ounce or less of marijuana takes effect December 6 of this year, as does per se DUI. Prosecutors in several counties dropped misdemeanor possession the day after the election. Alison Holcomb told the media she was “incredibly moved” by the gesture and that it took “incredible courage.” Lawrence O’Donnell quoted her approvingly on MSNBC on Wednesday, Nov. 14.

The next night MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow displayed and read aloud tidbits from a webpage the Seattle Police Department had created to answer questions concerning I-502. The subtext of all this love from MSNBC is that the system works after all, democracy abides. Rachel made no reference to the role that money played in getting a law passed in Washington and a law tripped up in Oregon.

Fred Gardner is managing editor of O’Shaughnessy’s, the journal of cannabis in clinical practice. He can be reached at editor@beyondthc.com