Cannabis leaf on a green background

If House Bill 4088 passes, you will truly be able to say: Crime pays in Oregon.

Some legislators want a bailout for people convicted of crimes related to the manufacture, delivery or possession of marijuana before July 1, 2015. Should enough of those convicted criminals get together and form a marijuana business, HB 4088 would give them discounts on state licenses and fees, and grants and low-interest loans.

The bill’s supporters are undoubtedly motivated by good intentions. HB 4088, though, is a poor solution and poorly thought out. Supporters testified Monday before a legislative committee that they are hoping to right wrongs in the criminal justice system. They say that in the war on drugs certain groups were convicted disproportionately. They seek redress for that inequity. And HB 4088 is a vehicle.

Businesses could benefit from the program if they are made up of ownership of at least 25% of people who were convicted of the qualifying offenses or at least 20% of the staff hours of the business are worked by individuals with qualifying offenses. The bill is not only about people convicted of breaking laws regarding marijuana. Businesses could also qualify if they are a small business, as defined in the bill.

Notably, the bill does not say where the money comes from to offer these discounts and grants. When asked about that during a hearing on Monday, the response was that the money might come from state marijuana revenues. Does that mean money for schools and drug treatment would instead go to people convicted of pot crimes to help them sell pot? The other suggestion was that money be diverted from lottery revenues. That’s hardly much better. A third suggestion was to create a voluntary tax on marijuana businesses to help fund the program. Perhaps businesses are itching to voluntarily tax themselves to create more competition for their businesses. That would be impressive.

There is little question there have been problems in the way the criminal justice system investigates, convicts and punishes some groups of individuals. Is it a good solution to pay people to get into the tricky marijuana business — without a good source of revenue for the program — when the people were convicted of marijuana crimes in the first place? No.

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