Oregon Legislature Looks to Diminish Pot Related Offenses

By Veronica Morgan

In a sweeping 52-4 vote last Wednesday, Oregon legislators passed House Bill 3400, which would reduce the charges for marijuana related offenses, effective July 1, 2015.

According to Representative Lew Frederick, D-Portland, “The impact of drug convictions is felt more strongly in some communities,” Frederick reports he cannot go shopping without someone stopping him to ask about reform laws. As one of the two African-Americans in the State Legislature, Frederick states, “Every time incarceration for marijuana offenses has been studied it has been shown to be drastically skewed toward communities of color and poor communities.” He went on to say, “the fact is that these laws have turned large numbers of black or brown or poor citizens into criminals, while others have toked up in safety for decades.”

Frederick explained that every study he has seen, proves that marijuana use is just as wide spread in every demographic, be it race, income, or status, but the arrests have not shared that universality.

Senator Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, believes, “We ought to treat marijuana as we treat beer and wine.” Prozanski went so far as to push for a reduction in the penalty for selling cannabis to minors, but he met with resistance at that point.

A lobbyist representing Oregon police chiefs, Kevin Campbell said, “Anything involving a minor is where things get very sensitive.”

Representative Andy Olson, R-Albany, has been working with Prozanski to discuss the regulations regarding minors. As a retired cop, himself, Olson has worked to have sales to minors reduced from a Class A felony down to a Class C felony. The difference is that sentences are much less severe, and provide judges a lot of leeway in sentencing.

Another angle of the Bill involves assisting previously convicted felons have marijuana offenses removed from their record. “We want to make sure it’s no longer going to stigmatize them and shut a lot of doors that should be open,” Rep. Ann Lininger, D-Lake Oswego, reported. She used the example of one young man who pled guilty to felony possession charges, which sent him to jail for four days, and earned him probation. Since his conviction for what is described as “a handful of plants” growing in a closet, this young man has not been able to secure permanent work due to his felonious history. He now works in a medical marijuana dispensary, and is seeking a lawyer to help him clear his record.

The state Senate must still pass the bill, which will be a formality according to insiders.

What will change?

  1. Adult Possession (8+ oz)
    Was: Class C felony
    As of July 1: Class A misdemeanor
  2. Minor Possession (8+ oz.)
    Was: Class C felony
    Now: Class A misdemeanor
  3. Illegal Sales
    Was: Class B felony
    Now: Class A misdemeanor
  4. Delivery to Minor
    Was: Class A felony
    Now: Class C felony

Effective July 1, 2015: Measure 91 and this pending legislation will make it legal for residents to possess one ounce in public, and up to 8 ounces at home.

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