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By Helen Silvis of The Skanner News
Published: 02 November 2012

Supporters of Measure 80, the Cannabis Tax Act, held a press conference in downtown Portland Friday morning.  

According to polls, the measure will fail unless significant numbers of currently undecided voters break in favor of ending prohibition.  A KATU poll shows 37 percent of voters in favor, 41 percent against and 22 percent undecided.

Serra Frank, founder of Moms for Marijuana, said prohibiting cannabis puts huge numbers of otherwise law-abiding citizens on the wrong side of the law, making them fear law enforcement rather than work with them to keep cannabis – and other drugs--out of the hands of youth. (Find out more about Moms for Marijuana)

"The stability of good parents is put in question and families are torn apart all because of marijuana use, while at the same time other parents can freely consume legal drugs like alcohol," Frank said.

"Everyone always asks, 'What about the children?' Right now it is easier for those underage to get marijuana than it is for them to get alcohol and tobacco. Because under a regulated system cashiers are required to ask for identification and verify age before selling these drugs.

"Drug dealers on the black market do not ask for ID, and access to marijuana also means access to harder and more dangerous drugs, like methamphetamine and ecstasy."

Tax dollars should not be going to prosecuting cannabis users, Frank said.

"Often times those nonviolent offenders are our children, leaving them with a record that can impact them their entire lives."

Opponents of Measure 80 have offered a different take on the Measure. Some argue that legalizing cannabis will make it more easily available, increase rates of drug abuse and increase drug-impaired driving. They point to studies that show developing young brains may be damaged by cannabis. If legalization makes cannabis more acceptable, they argue, more teens will abuse it.

Supporters say that cannabis is a relatively harmless plant, which has a long history of medical and recreational use, which is why Oregon passed the Medical Marijuana law.

Others say they oppose Measure 80 because it puts too much power in the hands of growers.

As written, the measure would create an Oregon Cannabis Commission, like the Oregon Liquor Commission, but with five of its seven members elected by growers. That's like letting tobacco companies regulate cigarette sales, opponents say.

Supporters say the Oregon Legislature can change those specific provisions if they come up with a better plan.

Opponents say adding another legal drug is a bad idea. "Measure 80 threatens communities already beset by drug abuse and narcotics trafficking," says a pamphlet, written by two Oregon Sheriffs and a District Attorney who oppose the Measure. (PDF file)  "Simply put, Measure 80 will undermine public health and public safety in Oregon.

"Imagine Oregon as a magnet that attracts the illicit drug trade for the entire North American continent," "Is that what we want to incubate as one of Oregon's prime industries?"

The pamphlet says that just 8 percent of Americans use illegal drugs. However, figures from the National Institute on Drug Abuse show that 20 million people or one in 10 Americans, uses illegal drugs. And 17.4 million of them use cannabis.

At the press conference, Madeline Martinez, a former corrections officer representing the pro-legalization group, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, said that legalizing personal use of cannabis will undercut the criminal cartels, and take it out of the reach of young people. Instead of spending money to prosecute adult marijuana buyers and sellers, Oregon should be taking in tax revenues.

 "Drug dealers don't ask for ID and they don't just sell marijuana; they sell a number of different drugs,"  Martinez said. "We'd like to keep our children safe. Please vote yes on Measure 80 to protect our children, grow Oregon's economy and because prohibition is just plain unpatriotic."

Supporters of the law say that young people can buy cannabis easily now.  If it was treated like alcohol, it would be less available on the street, they say.  When adults can go to a store and legally buy cannabis, drug dealers won't be able to profit from selling it.

Carla Hanson, chair of the Multnomah County Democrats and a former Lawrence, Kansas, police officer also spoke in support of Measure 80, along with Anne Witte, an attorney and a member of the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. Roy Kaufman, campaign spokesperson read a statement of support from Bruce Litchfield, a former Milwaukie Police Department officer.

The Measure 80 campaign points to a report, from the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness,(PDF file) a think tank that suggests legalization would curb criminal drug cartels.  Marijuana regulation in either Colorado, Oregon or Washington could cut drug cartel profits by up to 30 percent, the report says. And if Oregon passes Measure 80, the cartels would lose $1.8 billion.

Measures in Colorado and Washington also are asking voters to legalize cannabis use. Those measures received big out-of-state donations, while Oregon's measure did not, largely because it was thought less likely to pass.

Polls show that Washington's Initiative 502 is likely to pass. A recent King 5 poll by SurveyUSA found  56 percent of voters plan to  vote yes and 37 percent plan to vote no. Just 7 percent of voters say they are undecided. The most recent poll in Colorado shows that voters are divided 53 percent in favor to 43 percent against.

In Oregon the largest daily news organizations have editorialized against Measure 80. The Oregonian, The Salem Statesman Journal and the Eugene Register Guard are unanimous in their opposition. The Skanner News has endorsed the measure.

The history of race-based prejudice within the criminal justice system, and the disproportionate impact of prohibition on communities of color factors into the NAACP's stance. Both nationally and in the Northwest, the NAACP supports legalization. In Seattle, three pastors also came out in favor of Washington's I502.

 "It's no longer enough to say the War on Drugs has been a failure," said Rev. Leslie Braxton of New Beginnings Christian Fellowship in Seattle. "We have to recognize that it has done damage, especially to Black Americans, and we have to change course. Marijuana law enforcement has become a pretext for pushing people into the criminal justice system where they get branded with criminal records that turn them into second-class citizens facing additional barriers to education and employment."

This article was UPDATED Nov. 5.

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