We’re less than a week away from voting to legalize marijuana in Oregon under Measure 91. The Yes on 91 campaign has bankrolled millions in donations and is airing pro-legalization advertisements on television stations across the state. The No on 91 campaign has bankrolled a measly $180,000, 98% of that from the Oregon State Sheriffs Association and the Oregon Narcotics Enforcement Association, and has aired no TV ads.
Unless you count the helpful people at Medford’s KTVL, which last night aired a hit piece on legalization that might as well have been a five minute ad for the No on Measure 91 campaign. Cops were given free rein to utter all their untrue reefer madness talking points and the reporter made no attempt to balance the coverage with response from the Yes on Measure 91 campaign.
The piece, entitled “A High State Of Mind: Law Enforcement And The OLCC [Oregon Liquor Control Commission] Discuss Regulatory Changes If Measure 91 Passes” begins with the Klamath County Sheriff, Frank Skrah, saying voting for Measure 91 will mean more deaths on Oregon roads. “There’s enough carnage on the highway we sure as heck don’t need anymore,” said Sheriff Skrah, in full uniform for the cameras.
Evidence? We don’t need no steenking evidence! It’s not as if there are two states that have already legalized marijuana, and both of them have declining rates of traffic fatalities. It’s not as if the reporter could’ve checked some unknown small-town newspaper like, say, The Washington Post, to prove Sheriff Skrah wrong in his prediction.
Sheriff Skrah was allowed to continue, un-fact-checked, as he intoned how much enforcement costs would rise under legalization. “You need a DRE, a Drug Recognition Expert. That requires additional training, that requires additional time, that requires bringing that DRE in to give the folks that are arrested a different set of sobriety examinations and the cost of that is gonna be astronomical,” said Sheriff Skrah.
Astronomical? You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. If the reporter had bothered to read Measure 91, she could have pointed out that 35% of the tax revenue coming from Measure 91 goes to law enforcement, particularly to help them hire and train more DREs. Sheriff Skrah’s “astronomical” cost was estimated by the Secretary of State’s office to be $400,000 annually for three new Highway Interdiction Team members, training of all Advanced Roadside Impairment Driving Enforcement, and training Drug Recognition Experts, whereas Measure 91 is estimated to bring in $17 to $40 million annually.
Next, the chair of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, Rob Patridge, complained about the lack of a per se THC-in-blood standard to measure driving impairment. “Just like .08 is there for alcohol, that is not included in this particular measure,” said Patridge.
The truth? You can’t handle the truth! He’s right, insofar as Measure 91 lacks a per se THC standard. But was there any mention of the facts that THC isn’t like alcohol and no scientific standard exists, that driving while high is a crime cops bust people for now even without a standard, and that Measure 91 dedicates funds to the study of a scientifically reliable standard.
Then the chair of the OLCC, who should really know better, claims that Measure 91 is going to allow unlimited pot shops throughout the state and that anyone can hold any number and type of marijuana licenses. “You can be a producer, a distributor and a wholesaler and sell, so you can … hold all four licenses,” said Patridge.
If you want to get loaded, why don’t you just order a shot? Why isn’t there a bar and liquor store on every block in Oregon? Because the OLCC has the regulatory authority to limit them, just as they are given that authority to limit pot shops under Measure 91. Too bad the reporter’s not as familiar with the liquor laws as Rob Patridge, who knows damn well that “you can be a producer, distributor, and a wholesaler and sell” if you’re one of Oregon’s many craft brewers or vintners, or maybe she’d have pointed out that Measure 91 treats marijuana in exactly the same way.
The OLCC chair continues by lamenting that they, and not the federal government, will oversee the packaging and labeling of marijuana products. “It’s new ground and new territory for Oregon and in the United States. We’re gonna look to Washington and Colorado to see what they’ve done, but we’re gonna do it Oregon’s way,” said Patridge.
What a hype. Groundhog Day used to mean something in this town. Labeling, packaging, and testing marijuana is only new ground for the OLCC. The reporter fails to mention the fact that the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and the Department of Agriculture will be assisting OLCC in labeling, packaging, and testing, and that OHA has now had almost two years’ experience labeling, packaging, and testing medical marijuana.
Next, KTVL turns to Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert, who’s allowed to slam marijuana edibles while pictures of Halloween scenes appear on screen. “Our whole point is no one under 21 is gonna be using this product, so why are we making them so attractive to children,” said Heckert.
Mr. Pitt eats his Snickers bars with a knife and fork. Where is this planet where adults don’t like gummi bears? These are products that are sold now in medical marijuana dispensaries where you have to be 21 to enter, where your ID is checked at the point of sale, and where the products won’t leave the store unless they are in opaque, childproof containers. Those are the rules the OHA mandated and there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t mandate them for recreational products, especially since Section 7 of Measure 91 gives OLCC all the authority they need to prohibit any marketing, packaging, or advertising that would appeal to kids.
Next the District Attorney complains about the smell that might come with home marijuana gardens come harvest time. “They can’t open up their windows, they can’t go out and enjoy their backyard because of the odor,” explained Heckert.
Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark – and Hamlet is taking out the trash! Why do opponents of Measure 91 think that legalizing marijuana repeals all other laws? There are currently laws against creating public nuisances – you can bet if I piled a hundred pounds of pig manure in my backyard, the city would have plenty of codes and ordinances to force me to clean it all up. If someone’s garden is causing a nuisance, the city can deal with it.
The OLCC Chair then laments the fact that the OLCC hasn’t studied marijuana yet. “By Oregon law, we’re restricted at the Liquor Control Commission. You can’t spend the liquor money on non-liquor regulatory things. We certainly have had the opportunity as part of what we’re doing to study that, but we can’t go out and spend money on a ballot measure unless it passes,” said Patridge.
Don’t ever call me stupid. Right, and when Measure 91 does pass, the OLCC is given plenty of money and until July 1, 2015 before the law in in effect and until January 1, 2016, to study, create, and promulgate the rules on marijuana. You’d think a reporter who read Measure 91 would bring up the fact the OLCC will have over a year of study before the first legal pot is sold.
Next we return to Sheriff Skrah who isn’t sanguine on the idea that taxing marijuana will reap any money for his department. “I mean, I believe in the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny too, come on,” said Skrah. District Attorney Heckert added, “I’m just skeptical that there would be a big influx of money, but time will tell.”
Show me the money! Show me the money! Remember how Sheriff Skrah figured that $400,000 in costs was “astronomical”? Once again, here’s the opportunity for the reporter to ask Sheriff Skrah and DA Heckert what adjective they’d use to describe the $17 million to $40 million that the Secretary of State’s Office estimates Measure 91 will reap, or to mention that 35% of that money will be going to law enforcement. It would also be nice to mention that the tax revenue in Washington and Colorado keeps increasing month by month.
District Attorney Heckert concludes by implying that legalization of marijuana isn’t going to reduce the workload of cops and courts. “You’re gonna still have people growing on public lands, you’re gonna still have people transporting it across state lines and receiving the money back and all of those issues that we currently prosecute, those cases are not gonna go away because of Measure 91,” said Heckert.
S.C.M.O.D.S. State, County, Municipal Offender Data System. Surprise, marijuana legalization does not end all crime. But what Measure 91 does is ensures that up to 13,000 Oregonians don’t get tickets or arrests for personal marijuana possession and cultivation. The reporter might have mentioned that in Washington, arrests for personal possession declined from over 5,000 to under 200. In Colorado, the monthly arrests for all marijuana offenses declined from roughly 700 a month to about 130.
KTVL is in Medford, which is in Southern Oregon, which is in the heart of the so-called Emerald Triangle region where the best marijuana on earth is cultivated. There is a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area designation for those parts which leads to a lot of federal grant money for law enforcement. In the most recent Oregon Asset Forfeiture Report, the Medford Police Department netted $213,015.26 in seized cash and property, and District Attorney Heckert’s office netted $42,677.98.
It’s easy to understand why law enforcement in Southern Oregon is spreading falsehoods and scares about marijuana legalization. It’s their job and, to some extent, their budgets on the line. But once law enforcers leave that job, they are free to express what thirty former law enforcers recently told news organizations in Northern Oregon – treating marijuana use as a crime in Oregon has failed and it’s time to vote yes on Measure 91.
What I have trouble understanding is why a journalist would produce such a one-sided hit piece to help law enforcement spread their message on television and why a news station would let her do so without affording the opposition to a chance to rebut. After all, KTVL is a CBS affiliate, not FOX News.