Senator Ferrioli Explains Why Eastern Oregon Needs Exemption from State Marijuana Law

   

Wow. Just wow.

A fan of my show has forwarded to me the email he got from Sen. Ted Ferrioli (R-West Idaho) explaining why he threw a temper tantrum until the east side of the state was given special privileges not approved by the 56 percent of voters who passed marijuana legalization in Measure 91. Here it is, with my commentary interspersed:

Writers of M-91 knew that rural areas would be skeptical, but underestimated how much they might oppose, or even resist the new law. In fact, the opt-out designed into M-91 would have required rural citizens (who voted “no” by a wide margin in some cases) to face another public election on the question, leading many to ask “What part of my “no” vote did you not understand?”

The first “no” vote, Sen. Ferrioli, was not a vote on whether, say, Malheur County wanted legal pot shops. That was a statewide vote as to whether pot shops should be legalized statewide. Malheur County and the rest of West Idaho voted no and were outvoted by the state. That’s how this thing called democracy works – elections have consequences. Does Eastern Oregon now get to be governed by Dennis Richardson and represented by Monica Webhy, or is marijuana policy the only statewide election for which West Idaho gets their way?

In that case, the only way to reverse that decision, in other words, to unwind that second “no” vote, would be through a third referral to the people.

Dang, this democracy thing sure is difficult. It’s almost like, shucks, the state voted no on legalized marijuana statewide in 2012 and, gol-darnit, the only way to unwind that vote was to go through the entire initiative process again in 2014.

Oregon voters, if nothing else, are stubborn. If they vote once on an issue, fine. If they are forced to vote twice on a measure (like “Death with Dignity Act) they get very cranky and the issue would be considered a closed question for decades (as with Monmouth, Oregon’s last “dry” city).

Ohmygosh, we wouldn’t want any cranky voters! C’mon now, Senator, Oregon’s Death With Dignity was passed in 1994 as Measure 16. It was held up by injunction until 1997. The all-knowing wise legislature decided that the state’s voters didn’t know what they were doing (sound familiar?) and placed Measure 51 on the 1997 ballot, which would have repealed Death With Dignity. It was rejected by 60 percent of the voters. (That reminds me of the time when the all-knowing wise legislature decided in 1998 that 1973’s marijuana decriminalization was a mistake, referred it to the voters, and were soundly rebuked by the voters, 2-to-1. Y’all don’t really understand what the people want regarding marijuana, do you?)

As for Monmouth, it was settled by religious folks in 1852 who established alcohol prohibition there in 1859. Citizens attempted to overturn prohibition there in 1936, then 1950, 1954 and 1976 and failed to do so. In 2002, citizens finally succeeded in overturning prohibition by a 58 percent vote. What you’ll note in this re-telling, Senator, is that nowhere along this Monmouth timeline was it the Monmouth City Council making these changes; the citizens were forced to gather petitions and hold a vote. Based on your context, you seem to be saying that Monmouth’s City Council would have overturned prohibition on its own sooner if it could have, a laughable proposition.

I wanted an opt-out by simple majority vote of the city council or county commission so that combat veterans suffering PTSD, hospice patients, cancer sufferers, children suffering from juvenile seizures, those suffering from Parkinsonism and people with chronic pain would have a chance to change hearts and minds of councilors and commissioners over time with their personal stories.

And so the way you’re getting, say, Malheur County to recognize the needs of desperately sick and disabled residents is by making those people drive hours to get to a legal dispensary in the west or find black market weed dealers in the east? By allowing a city council or county commission to ban the medical marijuana dispensaries that are already near these patients?

How much “over time” is this going to take, Senator? Eastern Oregon has heard these stories from patients since before medical marijuana’s statewide passage in 1998 (thank God you weren’t in office then to tirade until you got West Idaho’s right to still treat them all as criminals until they could change the hearts and minds of their wise and benevolent overlords!)

Aiding them in this effort will be the experience of other jurisdictions which will suffer none of the predicted adverse affects of medical clinics and low-key recreational outlets.

The result? Maybe not next week, or next year, but sooner rather than later the opt-out decisions will begin to be unwound, in this case, by a simple vote of the majority or councillors and commissioners rather than an expensive, high profile local referral election.

Right. These Eastern Oregon counties will get to suck up Western Oregon marijuana tax money as they observe marijuana commerce out west, and they’ll all have a change of heart that they haven’t had over the past two years of observing Western Oregon’s functioning medical marijuana dispensaries that have operated with none of the predicted adverse affects. Sooner rather than later… where the seventeen years of medical marijuana in Oregon serves as the upper bound for “later”.

I believe in the basic compassion of people. Councilors will respond to direct appeals from their constituents, and in a better way than if they are forced into a referral campaign.

Right, like they have responded to direct appeals for the past seventeen years?

No, Senator, what you are protecting is the will of these glorified home owners’ associations to ban all pot commerce, even the medical marijuana that you and I and every pollster who asks the question knows the majority of even rock-ribbed, hyper-religious, elderly conservative Republicans support. You’re protecting these city councilors and county commissioners from the uncomfortable position they’d be in if they had to campaign against sick and disabled people’s access to medicine.

Regarding the income from the sale of drugs: I agree that communities who opt out should have no income from sales. In a strange way, the offer of local tax revenue in exchange for acceptance of legal drug sales solidified support for a local opt-out provision.

“Drugs,” right, Senator. So, how exactly is withholding the 3 percent local tax from West Idaho towns that don’t have pot shops or dispensaries going to prevent these West Idaho counties from receiving a portion of the 17 percent state tax? Are you going to approve language that guarantees the proceeds of Oregon’s only sales tax are only disbursed to the counties that allow pot shops?

Meanwhile, I am working on resolving the banking issue, helping tribes develop policy for growing and selling marijuana from reservations, drafting a resolution to Congress to “unschedule” marijuana (reclassification creates a new set of problems), finding a way to start recreational sales on July 1, 2015 and creating an explicit right to home delivery for medical users.

Well, certainly then, we should allow West Idaho’s local governments to decide whether their banks should be able to handle marijuana accounts and whether their local Indian tribes have any rights to marijuana. That resolution to Congress will also have to be amended so the local governments can decide whether they are signing onto it. Of course, the local governments should also be able to decide whether home deliveries are legal.

After all, we wouldn’t want them to get cranky if we forced them to accept marijuana banks, Indian pot shops, home pot deliveries, and made them speak up for descheduling marijuana federally.

I conclude that I am doing my best to implement what people wanted in M-91, which is the end of Prohibition. As with the end of the prohibition on alcohol, communities will get there at their own pace.

Oregon first implemented alcohol prohibition in 1844. The territory repealed it the next year. Until 1915, localities passed various alcohol laws. In 1915, Oregon prohibited alcohol statewide. In 1919, the United States prohibited alcohol nationwide. In 1933, the United States repealed Prohibition and Oregon did so, too, just days later. That’s when Oregon created the OLCC, particularly ORS 471.506, which tells us that if a local government wants to ban alcohol, it “shall order an election on the question whether the sale, for beverage purposes, of alcoholic liquors of any of the classes described in this section shall be prohibited in the city or county … Must be signed by not less than 10 percent of the electors registered in the city or county … [and] An election under this section shall be conducted.”

In other words, Senator Ferrioli, you just gave a handful of city councilors or county commissioners in a West Idaho county the power to ban medical marijuana dispensaries, but they’d have to get the voters’ permission to ban a tavern.

Again, I ask, what’s the point of having a statewide initiative system it its results do not apply statewide? It’s time for activists on the left and right to come together for a constitutional amendment that, like Washington State, prohibits any legislative tinkering with a citizen initiative for two years.

Russ Belville

"Radical" Russ Belville is a blogger, podcaster, and host of The Russ Belville Show, a daily two-hour talk radio show focused on the evolution of the legal marijuana industry in the United States. The program is airing live at 3pm Pacific Time from Portland, Oregon, on CannabisRadio.com, with podcast available on iTunes and Stitcher Radio. Russ began his marijuana activism in 2005 with Oregon NORML, then in 2009 went on to work for National NORML, and found and direct Portland NORML.in 2015.