During the latter days of the Vietnam War as a young Oregon State Trooper I was part of a drug street team to enforce our Zero Tolerance drug laws. I made my share of arrests for the then-crime of Possession of Less Than an Ounce of marijuana. Occasionally we’d make a felony arrest for much more serious holdings.
Back then it was serious business. There was nothing funny or even in the least accepting throughout this state about the manufacture, possession, or use of marijuana for any purpose.
If you were part of that thin blue line and thought there was anything acceptable about marijuana possession, you were at best irreverent and more likely suspect. And if you wholly accepted its use then you were certainly suspect if not a suspect.
Long before “medical” marijuana was an excuse for having weed on you, possessing less than an ounce came close to being a felony. If you had Hashish (a concentrated THC marijuana derivative) it was certainly a felony.
Who could have imagined that in those days we would have missed an idea for marijuana policy writ large—on the big screen?
The 1978 Paramount Pictures masterpiece “Up in Smoke”, followed the law-breaking antics of Cheech Marin, as Anthony “Man” Stoner and Tommy Chong as Pedro de Pacas.
Laugh if you will, but the all too obvious and ignored premise of Up in Smoke was that the manufacture, possession, sale and use of marijuana was a lot of harmless and profitable fun! And if you thought hard enough you could imagine redeeming social values as well.
We laughed as the high and hapless protagonists showed the courts and cops as incapable of dealing with the taboo marijuana mentality.
While Man and Pedro were having criminal charges dismissed by a judge who was caught with a water pitcher full of vodka during court, the police were either stoned from marijuana exhaust, or confused by reports of a stash of dope being peddled in town (which by the way was in the parking lot of the police station in the form of the Cheech and Chong dope van), the point was made: law enforcement was ineffectual. It was clear there was no way the criminal justice system could control a mini marijuana epidemic in the form of these two guys who couldn’t even navigate their own lives.
Sadly, that is exactly where the Oregon criminal justice system finds itself today.
In Oregon, the argument no longer is whether marijuana is therapeutic. Voters have settled that matter. Oregon cops need help in sorting out the 21st century Cheech and Chongs from the voter-approved Doctor Feel Goods. We are waiting to find out if Oregon will license the 225 Medical Marijuana facilities across the state to show seriousness on the issue.
Legalizing marijuana, like prohibition before it, will result in a tsunami of social implications that social acceptance of marijuana will bring. Imagine a fleet of vans filled with Cheech and Chongs and you begin to get the picture.
Oregon voters need to decide if a strong enforcement strategy going forward will include using money to prosecute the manufacture, sale, possession and use of marijuana. From breath test technologies based on new standards for Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana to controlling the science of THC level in the marijuana produce, we should be confronting these questions now.
What about the predictable social complications that come with entertaining this kind of social change? I can tell you, law enforcement has much better things to do than try to enforce the unaccountable and prosecute the indefinable.
What about preparing our children through well state funded and effectively delivered marijuana use education? If our children don’t have informed choices they will most often choose the ‘fun’ one.
Last week the Oregon District Attorneys Association asked the Oregon legislature to consider substantially lessening the penalties for some drug crimes in Oregon. Of course the common cry is that we can’t pay for being that tough in many instances.
What I can’t believe is that our top county law enforcement officials haven’t suggested a well thought-out and carefully structured proposal to test the willingness of Oregon’s voters to rethink the marijuana effect in Oregon. I know that at best in 99.9% of possession and use cases it is on their list of “when prosecutor time and money allow”.
Perhaps it is too much ask our top cops to tread into such deep political water.
Oregon voters have watched as Washington and Colorado have struggled with their new marijuana legalization law. They are no longer pretending they are dealing with the marijuana use issue. They are actually defining the real challenges of the presence of marijuana in their communities and addressing resources, if not perfectly, at least with informed purpose. Oregon voters get it.
The Oregon legislature is next up. Will they lead on this issue or decide to be the immovable, politically stuck public policy object? The Oregon initiative process waits in the wings as the irresistible force around this irresistible question.
My guess is when the irresistible force meets the immovable object something big will give. I just know that our current overall public policy approach regarding marijuana use as a true social welfare question in Oregon makes no more sense than Up in Smoke does as a state enforcement strategy.
Maybe we should ask Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong. Sad to say, forty years later maybe we can learn from them again.