Pubdate: Sat, 23 Apr 2016
Source: Mail Tribune, The (Medford, OR)
Copyright: 2016 The Mail Tribune
Note: Only prints LTEs from within it's circulation area, 200 word count limit
Author: Damian Mann


The Effects of Marijuana Legalization Are Just Starting to Be Realized

Marijuana became legal in Oregon only recently, but its legacy in 
Oregon has deep roots.

Marijuana's long road to legalization culminated in Ballot Measure 
91, passed by voters in 2014. Now anyone 21 and older can possess up 
to 8 ounces of marijuana and grow up to four plants. Most medical 
marijuana dispensaries in the county have also begun selling 
recreational marijuana.

In 1998, Oregon voters approved medical marijuana under the Oregon 
Medical Marijuana Act, opening the floodgates to pot production, 
particularly in Southern Oregon because of its long growing season.

After 1998, illegal grow sites still dotted the valley, and every 
summer law enforcement swooped in and scooped up bumper crops. Even 
after medical marijuana became legal, grows in forests and large 
tracts of land were routinely seized, and local law enforcement 
warned of drug cartels.

In Southern Oregon, the center of pot production has been in rural 
Williams, and Laird Funk has been one of the most outspoken 
proponents of legalization.

The 70-year-old Williams resident said, "I've been growing lawfully 
since '98, and I may have done some research earlier."

When he arrived in Williams in 1977, he said it was pretty common to 
see marijuana growing behind someone's house.

At the time, the Josephine County sheriff wasn't particularly 
concerned about marijuana crops because he had more pressing concerns.

"He figured these long-haired people who smoke marijuana are a lot 
easier to deal with than the drunks," Funk said.

When aerial surveillance and civil forfeiture became common, cannabis 
growers moved their crops off their properties and into the woods to 
avoid detection.

Funk began going to the Legislature in 1988, making his pitch for 
reform of marijuana laws in the state. He eventually became one of 
the leading voices pushing for marijuana legalization.

Marijuana was legal in Oregon during the early years after statehood 
was declared in 1859. Once the Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act of 
1935 was passed, Oregon joined the rest of the nation in making 
marijuana illegal.

The Oregon Decriminalization Bill of 1973 abolished criminal 
penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. As a result, 
possession of up to an ounce in Oregon was a violation punishable by 
a fine of $500 to $1,000. Oregon became the first state to 
decriminalize marijuana.

In 2004, Oregon voters rejected a ballot measure that would have 
allowed retail sales. But in 2005, the Legislature increased the 
possession limits for medical marijuana to 24 ounces, with the 
ability to grow six mature plants and 18 immature plants.

Another ballot measure in 2010 to legalize retail sales of pot was 
rejected by voters.

In 2012, the Legislature approved a medical marijuana dispensary 
system. The Legislature further decriminalized cannabis, making 
possession of more than an ounce but less than 4 ounces a 
misdemeanor. It previously was considered a felony. A law that 
suspended a driver's license for possession of more than an ounce was repealed.

Around this time, cannabis supporters tested the limits of marijuana 
laws in Oregon, sometimes running afoul of police.

In May 2013, a highly publicized raid on a local marijuana dispensary 
led to the arrest of a local couple on racketeering and money 
laundering charges.

Jackson County Circuit Judge Lorenzo Mejia in 2014 dismissed a slew 
of racketeering and money-laundering charges against Laura "Lori" 
Duckworth and her husband, Leland A. Duckworth.

Mejia found each of the Duckworths guilty of a single count of felony 
delivery of marijuana as part of a plea bargain. A previous 
indictment against Lori Duckworth on another 22 charges was 
dismissed, and an indictment against her husband for another 27 
charges was also dismissed.

The Duckworths each received 11 months' probation, after which their 
felony charge could be reduced to a misdemeanor.

Despite initial opposition to dispensaries in Jackson County, more 
than a dozen have now opened, and law enforcement officials have said 
they've seen few problems with them.

Since legalization, the Legislature, along with the Oregon Health 
Authority and Oregon Liquor Control Commission, has created a 
regulatory apparatus that will track recreational marijuana from seed to sale.

As of January 2016, the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program reported, 
77,520 people had medical marijuana cards. Jackson County had the 
second-highest number of marijuana patients in the state at 9,517. 
Multnomah County had 12,989 patients, followed by Lane County with 
8,241 cardholders and Josephine County with 6,503.

Jackson County also had the second-largest number of cannabis growers 
in the state at 5,949, with Multnomah County at 6,985.

With cannabis now legal, marijuana is being grown throughout Jackson 
and Josephine counties, and many of the grow sites with the tell-tale 
black fabric fences are easily visible from roads.

In Williams, which is considered one of the biggest pot-growing areas 
in the state, Funk said there haven't been reports of crops getting 
ripped off for many years.

Funk said he suspects that Mexican drug cartels started becoming a 
problem only about five years ago, but with legalization the cartels 
have moved on to more lucrative drugs such as heroin.

Funk said the attitudes toward marijuana have changed, and a new crop 
of pot activists has taken up where Funk left off.

"Until it became lawful for medicine in 1998, there was a lot still 
growing in the woods," Funk said. "But the draw of doing it in the 
woods started to diminish."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom