Confused by Marijuana (What I Learned in Rotary Today: 6 August 2015)

by Glenn on August 7, 2015

I am trying to document some of the things I learn in Rotary each week. I really enjoy these Thursday morning meetings with the Central East Portland Rotary Club. My initial interest in joining was business-related, but ultimately I joined because I enjoyed the people. My father, at one point, was a member of Rotary, so this has been a way to honor his memory, too.

Our Thursday morning meetings are an hour and on most weeks we have a featured speaker, as was the case yesterday. Most weeks I can look back at notes I took and tell you what I learned. Yesterday morning was a bit odd. The more I learned, the more confused I got.

This was no fault of the presenter, Nathan Rix, Senior Policy Analyst, Recreational Marijuana Program, Oregon Liquor Control Commission. He appears to know his stuff. The central problem he faces is trying to get everyone clear on something that seems sorta fuzzy.

Here’s what I understand:

Oregon voters approved a measure (The 38 pages of M91 can be found here.) that created a framework to legalize marijuana in Oregon. Two states (Washington and Colorado) had already done so and Oregon with Alaska in the last election became states nos. 3 and 4.

OLCC has been given the responsibility to license businesses related to what was referred to as an “industry.” I’m pretty sure I cocked my head a bit at hearing that term. I suppose we can call it an industry, but I sort of feel the same way about marijuana as an industry the way I do the Oregon Lottery. I appear to have some judgments.

Anyway, OLCC was originally given oversight of four areas of the marijuana … I guess I prefer the word racket:

Producer (grower)
Processor
Wholesaler
Retailer

Two additional areas of responsibility have been added to OLCC by the Oregon Legislature:

Laboratory testing
Research

Next, we learned about “The Cole Memo,” which OLCC is using to help guide them in the implementation of rules and policy related to the production and sale of medical marijuana.

It was at this point I stopped taking notes. A number of club members (myself included) started asking questions of our presenter and I was beginning to struggle to make sense of all of this. The Cole Memo is odd because marijuana is illegal under federal law, but here is this memo from the Department of Justice explaining how the federal law will and will not be enforced and how states may and may not defy federal law. What?

We have a number of medical people in our club. One of them worries about law enforcement officials and what they are to do if they pull someone over and suspect them of being impaired by marijuana. A breathalyzer won’t pick up marijuana (they reported) and a blood test is problematic because it will remain in your blood stream/urine for up to 21 days. You could test positive but that only means you probably were high but not necessarily are high.

Unrelated to the presentation yesterday, but one of the problems for people in “the industry” (I think quotes is the way to go) is the fact that since marijuana is illegal under federal law means you have to operate on a cash basis, because banks won’t allow you to have an account for an illegal enterprise. I think it’s somehow been (or is being) resolved, but it’s just one facet of all of this that adds to the overall impression of messiness.

For the record:

1. I have the greatest sympathy for those who are in pain and are assisted by medical marijuana. Who knows, perhaps I could be one of them some day. (Pretty sure we have a neighbor who is growing and smoking marijuana from their back yard for this very reason. They have some sort of degenerative disease.) But I make a distinction between a person seeking medical relief from pain and a person who violates the spirit of Paul’s injunction, “Don’t be drunk on wine.” I have no idea if there is something like moderation when it comes to the use of marijuana.

2. I have no experience with marijuana, besides whatever second-hand experience I had back in the 1970’s at an Earth, Wind, and Fire concert. (I had to ask the people I was with, “What’s that smell?”) It’s a world that I want nothing to do with, although a co-worker pointed out that our business had done work for people with marijuana shops so I can’t get too moralistic about it all. I just know that I tend toward extremes, so I’ve never been interested in experimenting myself.

We learned that a license to sell marijuana could go for as much as $4,000. This fee goes to pay for the OLCC workers. The taxes on marijuana would go to fund schools and the police and other civic causes. Can’t you see the advertising: “Take a hit for the kids” or “I’m high on the police, so I got high for the police.”

After the meeting I asked Mr. Rix to respond to the idea that we should have taken the approach that Amsterdam has taken toward marijuana: Decriminalize marijuana, but don’t legalize it.

Part of his answer made good sense to me: Without it being legalized, it puts the police in a difficult enforcement position.

Part of his answer didn’t make sense: He said that if we didn’t legalize it we would be missing out on a good tax opportunity and that Oregon’s taxes, at 20%, were much less than Colorado or Washington. I get nervous when the government is actively searching for more revenue streams.

Mr. Rix also pointed out that legalizing marijuana creates jobs. Yes, you can legislate the creation of jobs. I don’t think this is the best way to grow our economy (so to speak).

A question I asked during the talk was related to demand. I pointed out that while in the neighborhood where I work there is just one liquor store (though beer and wine are readily available in convenience and grocery stores), I see numerous marijuana stores. Is there really going to be this much demand? The consensus of the group is that we definitely have a bubble going on.

I’m not sure what I think about all of this. We’re not winning the war on drugs. We can’t afford to imprison everyone who likes to get high. But we’re regulating an illegal substance so that people can legally enjoy what is illegal to use. I like more clarity in my world.