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Cannabis clash is more about public policy than recreational fun


Eleanor Van BurenLike any controversial social issue, legalizing marijuana is not a black and white decision. Oregonians were seeing many shades of green on election night. Some were green with envy as Colorado and Washington passed unprecedented measures that legalized marijuana for recreational use, where adults older than 21 could possess 1 ounce without being prosecuted for the federally illegal drug. Others were simply sick at the thought that ‘yes’ on Measure 80, also known as the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, only trailed by nine points. Either way, a dilemma arose, and it is not going away anytime soon.

With marijuana touted as medication, far from the image of a life-ruining substance, I wonder if this illicit drug is harmful to the point where illegalization is a better solution than regulation. Since younger generations, including my own, will ultimately decide the status of marijuana, these are questions I need to consider.

Marijuana has made a surge in popularity, especially in states where medical marijuana is legal. Approximately 6.9 percent of the United States' population uses marijuana regularly according to a 2010 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration survey. The survey reported an increase in marijuana’s popularity since 2007, when only 5.7 percent of Americans were regular users.

This relatively steep incline in three years’ time is traced to the legalization of medical marijuana, which was first legalized in California in 1996. Since then, 18 states, including Oregon in 1998, have legalized the use of marijuana as medical treatment. Between 2007 and 2010, four states — New Mexico, Michigan, Arizona and New Jersey — and Washington, D.C., legalized medical marijuana, which explains the 1.2 percent increase in American users during those four years.

Aside from medical use, marijuana has become the third most popular recreational drug of choice by Americans, after alcohol and tobacco, both of which are legal and regulated. The Marijuana Policy Project states that 85 percent of high school seniors report “fairly easy” to “very easy” access to the drug. Accessibility, combined with the fact that the effects of marijuana, especially in only occasional use, are not noticeable, is why the highest demographic of marijuana users are teenagers and young adults in their early twenties.

This age demographic does not comprise the majority of the American vote however; a different demographic tells the story.

Marijuana use is still a racially charged issue, where today racial profiling criminalizes minorities at higher rates than white users. Since the 1960s, the use of marijuana by whites has increased, breaking the stereotypes conceived during the Marihuana Tax Act of 1938, which associated the drug with illegal Hispanic immigrants. In 2009, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law reported that 44.9 percent of the white population reported use of cannabis at least once, compared with the percentage of African Americans (37.9 percent) and Hispanics (26.8 percent).

Other than the plant itself, the most notable green factor when considering legalization is money. Vote80.org estimates that Oregon could raise as much as $2 billion in the next five years through regulation and taxation of marijuana sales. The Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp, the group that introduced Measure 80, enticed the government to support reformation through the promise of revenue. And with the more politically powerful demographic of whites representing the bulk of the supporters, Measure 80 could have passed as easily as it did in Colorado and Washington. So why didn’t it?

Measure 80 was much more monumental than the fact that it was a proposal unseen before 2012; it proved that good public policy-making requires sound regulation, not just any regulation. Those who are in favor of marijuana reformation, but did not vote "yes" on this measure (the swing voters in this case), understood the reality of how the members of a new state commission were to be chosen: the votes of growers and processors, with no say from state safety officials. Oregon voted not to elect more bias and more loopholes, an exemplary action in today’s politics.

Though I was not old enough to vote in the 2012 election, I considered what was on Oregon’s ballot and what stance I would take on each measure. I thought my opinion on Measure 80 was sensible and my logic was simple: It’s an illicit drug that I do not use. Check the box next to ‘No.' After researching this topic however, I realized it is as much about how public policy is created than it is about open access to recreational fun.

Eleanor Van Buren in a senior at Riverdale High School. She writes a monthly column for the Lake Oswego Review. To contact her, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .




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