The Witch Hunt in Salem - 1997
But the Federal
Government has been known to retry the same marijuana offenses after the
state, in a Twilight Zone double jeopardy: and Federal Law can confiscate
homes, autos, and property in arbitrary proceedings the likes of which
have not been seen since the Spanish Inquisition ...
he 1996 elections, seemingly, have thrown Salem into a state of panic. Fearful that Oregon might follow the example of California and Arizona -- both of which substantially decriminalized marijuana -- a bill to RE-criminalize possession of small amounts of the drug quickly made its way to the floor of the House. Boring Republican Speaker Lynn Snodgrass is a co-sponsor of HB 3643, as is former state Democratic Chair Margaret Carter, as is Lane County's Jim Welsh. All totaled, 28 of 90 state legislators are sponsors of Portland policeman John Minnis' bill.
Why the panic? "Failing a urine test was grounds for prosecution in Arizona: a person could face criminal charges in Phoenix for a joint smoked in Philadelphia days or even weeks before. Arizona's prisons grew overcrowded, and tent cities rose in the desert to house inmates. Proposition 200 declared that *'drug abuse is a public health problem'* and vowed to 'medicalize' the state's drug control policy ... On Election Day, Arizona voters backed the initiative by a margin of two to one." (The ATLANTIC MONTHLY, April 1997, emphasis added).
On the face of it, the Oregon bill seems innocuous, possession of under an ounce would be, instead of a violation, a class C misdemeanor; fines would remain the same. But the implications run deeper than that. Up to thirty days' jail time would be added. Where a 'violation' is not a crime, a class C misdemeanor IS. Law enforcement officers would have the authority to conduct searches of individuals, vehicles and residences which a 'violation' doesn't give them.
According to House Judiciary Committee ranking minority member Floyd Prozanski (D, Eugene), "It will require attorneys to be appointed at a cost of up to $900,000 per biennium at the same time the youth authority budget is being cut by $900,000! This does not include the costs for the prosecution, court or jail."
"They also want to send a message to young people," says Prozanski, who explains that study after study shows that marijuana use among teens is precisely the same whether the state has lenient or draconian laws.
In other words, with Measure 47 restrictions threatening to strip budgets for crime prevention state-wide, and with the manic construction of prisons throughout Oregon, Rep. Minnis proposes to burden the state legal system with a massive additional number of arrests, trials, incarcerations and paperwork. Else, if there is no problem, why propose?
"In 1982, when President Reagan declared his war on drugs, 88.5 percent of America's high school seniors said that it was 'fairly easy' or 'very easy' for them to obtain marijuana. In 1994, the proportion of seniors who said they could easily obtain it was 85.5 percent," notes the MONTHLY. The only discernible effect that anti-pot laws have produced has been to increase prices by 333 percent - rewarding the cultivators.
HR 3643 comes to us at a time when the national trend is headed BACK towards a public health view of drug abuse: abuse and addiction are seen as public health issues to be treated, rather than heinous crimes to be punished.
And, worse, a provision of HR 3643 as this goes to press, would be to insist upon admission of guilt before admitting an offender to a diversion program. DUII diversion doesn't demand this. But the Federal Government has been known to retry the same marijuana offenses after the state, in a Twilight Zone double jeopardy: and Federal Law can confiscate homes, autos, and property in arbitrary proceedings the likes of which have not been seen since the Spanish Inquisition, with informants collecting a 25% 'bounty' on seized property, sometimes for a single "joint."
An admission of guilt, in such cases, abrogates "home rule," by giving the feds all the rope they need to claim jurisdiction without the necessity of investigation.
The ATLANTIC MONTHLY reported in 1994: "On top of fines, incarceration and forfeiture, a convicted marijuana offender may face the revocation or denial of more than 460 federal benefits, including student loans, small-business loans, professional licenses and farm subsidies." Since the Welfare Bill of 1996, this number has only increased. Is this the "message" we want to send young people?
As Prozanski notes, many counties don't even have state approved diversion programs, which brings up that Dread Republican Spectre of the "unfunded mandate." As is generally the case, civil liberties, property rights and free expression take a back seat to McCarthyesque posturing when ideology demands it.
The MONTHLY notes: "In an era when the fear of violence pervades the United States, small-time pot dealers are being given life sentences while violent offenders are being released early, only to commit more crimes."
The precedent that we DO have is that the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act more than tripled the Federal prison population. "A public health approach to drug control was replaced by an emphasis on law enforcement. Drug abuse was no longer considered a form of illness; all drug use was deemed immoral, and punishing drug offenders was thought to be more important than getting them off drugs." And the vast majority of prosecutions and prisoners are marijuana-related: not methamphetamines, not heroin, not crack cocaine.
Is there any question that recriminalizing marijuana will increase the burden on Oregon's justice system? Worse, past history suggests that the burden will fall not on youthful offenders, but on the poor. Investigative reporter Eric Schlosser notes: "Children of the upper middle class are rarely sent to prison for marijuana offenses today. Their parents usually enroll them in private drug-treatment programs before trial and hire attorneys who specialize in drug cases. Privileged young men and women are usually treated leniently in court."
There is not time to protest to your legislator. The bill is heading for Governor Kitzhaber's desk, and may well be there by the time this article sees print. You need to WRITE the Governor, and let him know that marijuana is a public health issue, NOT a moral issue. If he vetoes the bill, the Republicans will accuse him of being "soft on drugs," which requires the counter-balance of YOUR voice.
We have better things to do with our limited resources than to enact another punitive "holy war" against marijuana.
Note in 1999: The Governor ill-advisedly signed the measure. In astonishingly short-order, signatures were gathered for a measure that left everything as it was (repealing the repeal, as it were) and the repeal was put on hold. Recriminalization went down in stunning defeat, and a medical marijuana initiative succeeded in the fall 1998 election, as well. Both carried by substantial margins. When all was said and done, more was said than done.
copyright © 1999 Hart Williams