Without advocating for or against pot, our message to the city and county lawmakers in the state is: You-all need to chill the flip out! (This is best said in the voice of Samuel L. Jackson.) Seriously. Watching the state legislature thinking about and trying to manage marijuana has been a lot like watching a Friday night drunken hoedown—two steps forward, one step back. It is confusing, and ultimately not productive. That's why I'm giving it the boot.
In the regular 2013 session, the state legislature took the reasonable step to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate within Oregon—again, without advocating for/against marijuana. We say reasonable because 15 years ago voters in the state approved the use of marijuana for predetermined ailments, like cancer and chronic pain.
Under the voter approved law, since 1998 patients with preapproved aliments have been allowed to possess and grow limited amount of marijuana, strictly for medicinal purpose. But this law has created confusion. (Yes, in part because of noted abuses of this allowance, with questionable prescriptions to 19-year-old hippies for glaucoma. But I dare anyone to speak with a patient who sincerely relies on marijuana to manage ailments and not understand why this is a reasonable allowance. Two years ago, I interviewed a woman with severe multiple sclerosis; pot was a daily medicine to ease her acute discomfort. And I interviewed a soldier who had returned from Afghanistan with severe PTSD; straight-laced as they come, the man was so relieved pot was softening the edges of his nightmares.
Most confusing, though—and what the 2013 allowance sought to remedy—the Oregon medical marijuana law from 1998 until 2013 created an illogical notion, conditionally approving the demand, but leaving the legality of the supply-side vaguely defined, creating a sort of grey market where growers could exploit loopholes, and also created a legal demand without allowing for a fully legal supply.
The Oregon state legislature's action in 2013 allowing medical dispensaries helped balance out that supply and demand equation, and took a step toward logic and clarity: As long as medical marijuana is legal, approved both by the majority of voters and the legislature, there should be public and regulated businesses that can provide safe and monitored transactions. Yes, the state legislature's approval for medical marijuana dispensaries in 2013 was a reasonable solution.
But then, in February, the very same people, the state legislature, ratcheted back their own allowances by voting for a senate bill permitting local municipalities to ban such dispensaries until 2015. Several municipalities—notably the City of Medford and Deschutes County—instantly jumped on that allowance, and thus has begun a mad scramble.
The result has been that marijuana laws pertaining to medical and recreational uses have turned into a chaotic mosh pit, a complicated and confusing mix of city, county, state and federal laws. It is, in a word, a mess; unnecessarily so.
Moreover, overarching this chaos is an even more dense fog of uncertainty: It is likely an initiative will be on the November ballot asking voters whether to outright approve marijuana, like neighboring Washington has done.
But instead of waiting for the smoke to clear, and for a comprehensive plan to emerge, lawmakers are scrambling to set up their own laws and regulations. The City Council in Medford, for example, not only decided to ban an existing dispensary in its city until 2015, as allowed under the most recent state law, but went so far as to declare a permanent ban on all dispensaries, basically, until hell freezes over. In a public statement, one city councilmember there boldly declared, "We have the authority to have a moratorium regardless of the state action."
Truly, this is beginning to verge on sheer lunacy and anarchy—and will only become more maddening when the voter initiative to legalize marijuana enters the conversation this summer.