Last Thursday, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission hosted the first official "listening session" on Measure 91 in Central Oregon. The ballot measure legalizing the recreational use of marijuana was passed by statewide voters in November (and passed in Deschutes County 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent), and will take effect on July 1.
As evidenced by last week's meeting, exactly how this new law will take effect is clearly a confusing and important topic for many residents. About 300 people packed into a large conference room at the Riverhouse; so many people showed up that extra chairs were dragged out to accommodate everyone.
Yet, in spite of the massive interest from residents, only three elected officials bothered to show up—state Sen.Tim Knopp, Bend City Councilor Victor Chudowsky, and Jefferson County Commissioner Mae Huston.
It is a dispiriting and discouraging display of apathy from our elected officials. On July 1, recreational use of marijuana will be legal in Oregon and it is likely to be one of the most transformative social and economic forces in the upcoming years for the state.
Yet, only those three elected officials bothered to come and listen to what will probably be the best organized opportunity for elected officials to hear concerns and thoughts from the general public about the legalization of marijuana before July 1.
Unfortunately, though, that lack of interest is not unexpected.
Bend's City Council has been noticeably absent in any discussion about the legalization of marijuana, in spite of what impact it can and will have on the city's social and economic makeup.
The legalization of marijuana is expected to be a boon in tax dollars (consider that Washington has harvested roughly $50 million in taxes during its first year of legalization). Though Oregon's tax rate is lower than that of other legal-weed states, Measure 91 gives similar opportunities for massive windfalls of public dollars (for example, growers will be taxed $35 for each ounce of flowers). These taxes are earmarked for the state to spend on law enforcement and education, but the voter initiative precluded local entities from taking a cut. Even so, last February, Ashland passed a local tax on marijuana with the hope that its regulations might be grandfathered in; a decision that may provide massive tax dollar hauls. (Rough estimates indicate that Ashland could draw around $800,000 annnually from its marijuana tax.) Some 60 city and town councils around Oregon followed Ashland's lead, and put together similar tax plans. But Bend City Council didn't even raise a peep.
Moreover, although there have been sincere concerns expressed about how the sale and consumption of marijuana will be handled by law enforcement, District Attorney John Hummel also was not present at the OLCC listening session, and no one representing Bend's police department or Deschutes County sheriff's department attended.
The meeting did dispel some of the myths about legalization, reminding the crowd that public consumption will not be allowed—just as the OLCC does not allow public alcohol consumption, people won't be able to simply walk down Bond Street blazing joints any more than they currently do. The main concerns raised by those in attendance were keeping marijuana away from children, and figuring out ways to prevent skunky aromas from bothering neighbors. Too bad no law enforcement was there to consider these citizen concerns and suggestions.
To kick off the meeting, OLCC Board Chair Rob Patridge explained: "I did not vote for Measure 91, but I feel I have an obligation to carry out the will of the people."
And that is a welcomed attitude—whether an official personally agrees with the rule, he or she is required to craft regulations to best shape the public's interests.
Overall, residents seem to be curious and earnest about how legalization of marijuana will affect our communities. They are taking this seriously; why aren't our elected officials?