As the fight to re-legalize cannabis heats up out here on the West Coast, I want to provide the opportunity for activists to get the word out to a national audience here at the Stash. If you have a well-written essay you’d like to feature here, please send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Why Should I Support the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA)?”
“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” – Johann Wolfgang Van Goethe
by Jennifer Alexander
Board of Directors, Oregon NORML
Many Oregonians are proud to be citizens of one of the first states to have allowed the use of medical marijuana. For many years, the federal government has led us to believe that marijuana had “no medical value” by retaining it in Schedule I and by continuing to plague us with propaganda that insists that marijuana is “dangerous.” As of April 1, 2010, there are over 32,000 medical marijuana patients currently holding cards in Oregon that disprove the notion that marijuana has “no medical value.”[i] Marijuana remains among the safest drugs known to mankind.
Proven Medical Value
In recent years, our society is rediscovering the value of marijuana for a wide range of disorders, including AIDS, cancer, muscle spasms, chronic pain and many others. The ongoing research is astounding and could demonstrate tremendous breakthroughs in our health and overall well-being. Research continues to demonstrate that marijuana is not as dangerous as once believed, and far more beneficial than most ever thought it could be. However, this research is still very limited due to the status of cannabis as a Schedule I drug. This needs to change; sound clinical studies need to be done to determine more about the potential benefits and possible risks of using cannabis.
There have been multiple petitions to reschedule cannabis at the federal level (the latest was filed in 2002 by the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis and is still under review[ii]). Rescheduling cannabis would allow for further medical studies, but the process is either incredibly slow or completely stalled. It has become clear to many that the prohibition of cannabis must end for our society to recognize the full benefits of cannabis and minimize the damage to our society that is almost exclusively due to its status as an illegal drug with “no medical value” according to our federal Controlled Substances Act.[iii]
NOTE: Due to the internal conflict in Oregon law present in Oregon’s Controlled Substances Act (classes marijuana as a Schedule I drug with “no medical value”) and the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (which is based on the medical value of marijuana according to doctors and patients), Oregon Senate Bill 728 was passed last year to reschedule marijuana to a schedule II through V in the Oregon Controlled Substances Act, and that is currently underway.[iv] The Oregon Board of Pharmacy will be accepting public statements on the rescheduling of marijuana through May 2010.
“Marijuana…Treated Like Other Medicines”?
The Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, approved by Oregon voters in 1998, states that “marijuana should be treated like other medicines.”[v] Support for medical marijuana has continued to grow, and recent national polling by AP-CNBC shows that large majorities of Americans support the medical use of marijuana across all age groups, ranging from as low as 50% to as high as 71%.[vi] It is clear that the vast majority of Americans accept the medical value of marijuana.
While medical marijuana is a step towards the end of prohibition, there is still much more work to be done. Only 15 states recognize the legal use of medical marijuana, and even in those states, medical marijuana users are marginalized and discriminated against. The most horrific part about this discrimination, however, is that it is supported by the government.
Oregon Supreme Court Validates Discrimination Against Medical Marijuana Patients
On April 15, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled in Emerald Steel Fabricators Inc. v BOLI that medical marijuana patients are “illegal drug users” and therefore do not qualify for the protections awarded other disabled workers.[vii] In essence, they are saying that even though Oregon voters support the medical use of marijuana, Oregon Medical Marijuana Program Patients are not to be treated any differently than any other “illegal drug users,” with the exception of not being arrested by State officials. However, they can still be arrested by federal officers, they can still be fired from their jobs, they can still be kicked out of their rental homes, have their children taken from them, and they can still be harassed in many other ways. This is all because they are not considered “patients” under the law, but simply “illegal drug users.”
Medical marijuana movements have demonstrated that the truth about cannabis has been hidden from us for years. We now know that marijuana does have medical value, thanks to those that championed the medical marijuana movements throughout the country. However, the Emerald Steel v BOLI case highlights why medical marijuana laws are not sufficient to protect patients. It is now time for Oregon to be at the forefront once again: legalizing marijuana is something that concerns us all – whether or not we choose to use cannabis products ourselves.
What can Oregonians expect from passage of the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA)?
The Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA) is our chance to stand up for the liberty of those prosecuted and discriminated against for their refusal to accept the federal government’s lies about marijuana. The OCTA ballot title reads: “Permits personal marijuana, hemp cultivation/use without license; commission to regulate commercial marijuana cultivation/sale.” The full text of OCTA, sponsored by Madeline Martinez, Executive Director of Oregon NORML, and Paul Stanford, founder of THCF clinics, can be read at www.cannabistaxact.org.
OCTA is “a scientific experiment by the people of the state of Oregon to lower the misuse of, illicit traffic in and harm associated with cannabis and will set up voluntary studies of cannabis users under ORS 474.045 (b) and other studies.” Some highlights of OCTA include:
- Recapturing the revenue currently lost to the “black market.” Currently, the high price of marijuana creates a lucrative source of revenue for illicit, “black market” businesses. Under OCTA, sales of cannabis will be regulated through the Oregon Cannabis Control Commission (OCCC), which will be tasked with the sales and ensuring the quality of psychoactive cannabis products, minimizing out-of-state diversions and preventing sales of cannabis to minors. OCTA distributes 90% of the profit from the sale of cannabis to the state General Fund, which primarily covers expenses for education, healthcare, and public safety.
- Minimizing minor consumption. In an unregulated market, there are no controls to prevent minors from acquiring marijuana. Under OCTA, cannabis will only be sold to adults 21 and over. Sale of cannabis to minors under OCTA will be a class B felony, and providing cannabis gratuitously to a minor is a class A misdemeanor. A drug education program will also be funded to discourage minors from consuming any intoxicants while they are minors, and to encourage responsible use if, as adults, they choose to use intoxicants, while “emphasiz[ing] a citizen’s rights and duties under our social contract.”
- Promotion of industrial hemp. Industrial hemp has many uses, including fuel, fiber and food. In 1938, Popular Mechanics referred to hemp as “The New Billion-Dollar Crop.”[viii] However, hemp production in the United States has remained illegal since the 1937 passage of the Marihuana Tax Stamp Act, and later the Controlled Substances Act. The only exception to the legality of hemp was during World War II, when the Department of Agriculture encouraged hemp production to support the war effort when imports of hemp were interrupted. Domestic production of hemp will minimize our imports of hemp raw materials from foreign economies and allow this domestic industry to flourish. OCTA removes restrictions in the State of Oregon for hemp production and sets aside 2% of profits for promotion of the domestic hemp industry.
Further, instead of restricting industrial hemp to low-THC content strains, which are not necessarily the “best” strains for many industrial uses, OCTA takes a much more logical approach. OCTA tasks the OCCC with defining the psychoactive content to qualify as psychoactive marijuana and defines all other cannabis as “hemp” and prohibits regulation of hemp. This logical approach will enable the OCCC to regulate the intoxicating cannabis without impeding the industrial production of hemp.
NOTE: While Oregon did legalize the production of hemp as of January 1, 2010 under SB 676 – hemp production cannot begin until the federal government issues DEA permits, which do not appear to be forthcoming. OCTA specifically states, “No federal license shall be required to cultivate hemp in Oregon.”
- Allows adult cultivation and possession of cannabis for personal, noncommercial use. Cannabis is used by many adults in social settings, much like many adults use alcohol or coffee. OCTA will allow adults to determine to grow and/or consume personal, noncommercial marijuana without risk of civil or criminal penalties for doing so. While some may be concerned about the social costs of legalizing marijuana for adult use for “recreation,” marijuana has not been shown to be the primary cause of a single death in the recorded history of its use – and legalization under OCTA will simply regulate cannabis and protect those that are ALREADY using marijuana.
OCTA is needed for Oregon to recapture control of its crime-rates, its economy, its healthcare and the liberty of all Oregon citizens. While some may not feel that legalization within our state is “enough” to make the necessary changes, it is vital that our state, as well as others, stand up and proclaim to the federal government that we will no longer accept the irrational abuse of its citizens. It is possible that the federal government may challenge OCTA; however, under OCTA, it will not be the private citizens (who have often lost assets to civil forfeiture) defending themselves against the federal government. Instead, it will be the federal government challenging the state of Oregon. This is the conversation on cannabis that is long overdue.
How You Can Voice Your Support for OCTA:
- You can download and print the single-signature petition from www.cannabistaxact.org, sign it and mail it back to the OCTA office.
- You can volunteer to gather signatures to ensure that OCTA makes it on the ballot. We need about 125,000 signatures by July 2, 2010 to be certain that there are enough valid signatures to make it to the November 2010 ballot.
- You can start an advocacy group for OCTA at your local college or within your community, or participate in running a booth at your local Saturday Market by contacting the OCTA office through the website.
- You can attend the “Hemp Is Earth Medicine” concert series currently underway to support fundraising for OCTA, presenting John Trudell, Tim Pate and State of Jefferson. More info available at the website.
- You can attend the Global Cannabis March at Pioneer Square on May 1, 2010 from 10am – 5pm to show your support for legalization.
- In November, when OCTA is on the ballot, VOTE YES!
For more information about the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, please visit www.cannabistaxact.org.
[i] Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP), Statistics, April 1, 2010, accessed from: http://www.oregon.gov/DHS/ph/ommp/data.shtml on April 20, 2010.[ii] Petition to Reschedule Cannabis, Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis, 2002, accessed from: http://www.drugscience.org/index.html on April 20, 2010.
[iv] Oregon Senate Bill 728, accessed from: http://www.leg.state.or.us/09reg/measures/sb0700.dir/sb0728.en.html on April 20, 2010
[vii] Emerald Steel Fabricators Inc v Bureau of Labor and Industries, Oregon Judicial Department Appellate Court Opinions, Filed April 14, 2010, accessed from: http://www.publications.ojd.state.or.us/S056265.htm on April 20, 2010.