Who’s against legal weed in Oregon?

Opposition mounting low budget fight against Measure 91

By Taylor W. Anderson / The Bulletin / @taylorwanderson

Published Aug 24, 2014 at 12:01AM

The opponents of a proposal that would allow Oregonians to carry up to a half-pound of pot are trying to mount a campaign against Measure 91 ahead of the November election.

The group consists mainly of the state’s district attorneys and the state’s sheriffs’ association and is heading toward November with very little organization or money to fight the second attempt in two years to legalize pot in the state.

But those opposing the measure unveiled a series of seminars across Oregon that will take place just weeks before the election to try and persuade voters not to pass the measure.

“You can currently possess 27 grams or less without any fear of being arrested,” said Josh Marquis, the Clatsop County district attorney who has emerged as the opposition’s spokesman.

“You might get a ticket, but to think about how you might get it you pretty much have to blow some smoke in a cop’s face,” Marquis said.

The Bulletin asked the state’s 36 district attorneys where they stand on Measure 91, and the group was unanimously against it, though they weren’t lockstep in their reasons for opposing it. The district attorneys from Josephine, Union and Malheur counties didn’t respond to the question.

It’s not earth-shattering news that the DAs don’t support a change to current law. The Oregon District Attorneys Association already announced it would oppose the measure as a group, though it doesn’t have money to buy ads.

Marquis said a cluster of seminars scheduled throughout the state in October could pour water on the measure that as of Friday was favored by a slim majority of likely voters. (A SurveyUSA poll put those in favor of legalized marijuana at 51 percent versus 41 percent opposed.)

The seminars will bring in members of the Drug Policy Institute, a former White House drug adviser and others who will “just give factual answers,” Marquis said. “Are prisons full of people with marijuana? No,” Marquis said, saying he believes the groups pushing the measure are providing misleading statistics.

For instance, Marquis said, the group cites a 2012 figure from Oregon State Police showing there were more than 12,800 arrests and citations for marijuana. Marquis said the figures may make people believe those arrests are sending people to court and jail.

“The implication is that the courts are spending vast amounts of time enforcing these silly marijuana laws,” Marquis said.

Five people are in prison in Oregon for possession of marijuana, according to updated statistics obtained from the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission. In total, 130 people are in prison for marijuana-related crimes with an average sentence of about two years.

Darian Stanford, a former Multnomah County deputy district attorney, said it makes sense that the state’s DAs would oppose the measure before it’s passed. They are, after all, elected to uphold current law, he said.

“I can assure you that if you talk to a number of DAs privately, that many of them would say ‘Yeah, (Measure) 91 makes sense,’” said Stanford, who said he’s never touched marijuana.

Some DAs, like Ulys Stapleton from Lake County, said they were against any form of legalization. Others made clear they weren’t against legalization but that they thought the proposal left open too many questions.

“Basically, what we’re doing is we’re going to create a larger bureaucracy and a larger set of regulations than we already have,” said Wasco County District Attorney Eric Nisley.

If passed, it’s up to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to regulate marijuana in the state.

The central committee of the state Republican Party was planning to decide on its ballot measure endorsements at a meeting Saturday in Wilsonville. Party Secretary Greg Leo said he recommended the group oppose the measure. The party did not return a call about what was decided at the meeting.

— Reporter: 406-589-4347, tanderson@bendbulletin.com