The legalization of weed is a big issue in the U.S. right now. Post-election, seven states have legalized weed, and everyone is poised to see the impact it will have.
However, we’ve already got precedents to look to. Back in 2014, Oregon voters backed laws to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Now, residents in Portland 21 years and older can smoke privately. They may also grow up to four plants, possess up to eight ounces in their home and an ounce outside the home. The Portland Police Department is even offering its sales advice via Twitter, giving tips on where to buy the stuff – illustrating how weed legalization in Oregon is evolving faster than a Gosha Rubchinskiy graphic.
But what do Portland’s locals now think of the 4/20 shift two years after its implementation? Oregon grows some of the best chronic in the world. Combine that with Portland’s need to have everything artisan, and you have some really great ways to get stoned. However, 44 percent of the state’s population voted against the legalization and here’s where the subject becomes hazy. Individual opinions on marijuana legalization are impossible to guess and they can’t be chalked up to social class, political sway or religious standing.
So, we spoke to a couple of Portlanders about legal pot smoking and unearthed some less acknowledged aspects of the legalization.
What Do Portlanders Think?
David McNicoll is President of OREC, the Oregon Responsible Edibles Committee. He’s on a mission to educate the public regarding the responsible usage of edible marijuana products.
In short, he makes space cakes and he wants you to enjoy them without coming to in a Chinese restaurant, nostril-deep in a plate of orange beef. He says:
“I think the best thing about legalization for Portland is the cultural freedom. Marijuana has been a big part of Oregon culture for decades, and being able to take that culture from illegal grow houses and street dealers to state licensed grow facilities and high end retail stores helps not only legitimize the cannabis industry, but legitimizes the long standing culture of pioneering Oregonian freedom.”
Does Legalization Reduce Black Market Crime?
Another argument for a big portion of the Portlanders in favor of legalization is that pot dispensaries appearing all over the city means there’s less scope for illegal dealing and therefore less money going to organized crime.
That’s not necessarily true, however. Portland Police Bureau Sgt. Pete Simpson commented that “the black market for marijuana has never gone away. In fact, it’s been bolstered by the legality because there’s so much more product available.”
Sgt. Pete might be right. But, still, nobody wants to smoke a seedy blunt and buying from a state-licensed facility is a great way to ensure your weed is well-manicured, always.
Money Over Everything
What’s more, state licensing has massively boosted revenue in Portland and the surrounding state. Oregon collected almost $3.5 million in pot revenue in January 2016 alone, and that’s discounting the cash which went to start government-run programs set up for recreational marijuana use.
So, all of those dismal cities that “opted out” of legalizing pot can’t tax the stoners, and they can’t share in statewide pot receipts, either.
But who else is raking in the big bucks from legalization? Brian, a sales clerk in Northeast Portland, used to grow his own weed and deal it on the streets. He thinks that the regulatory systems that are expanding across the U.S. have rules that make it hard for some people to become ganjapreneurs.
“Rich white men are dominating – and profiting most from – the sale of legal marijuana,” he says. As he sees it, primarily black people are denied the opportunity. “You go look at the figures,” he added. So we did.
The Race Gap: Who’s Profiting?
Fewer than three dozen of the approximate 3,500 storefront pot dispensaries in the United States are owned by black people – that’s about 1 percent.
The figures also anticipate that black Americans are way more likely to have been busted for it and, after having carried most of burden of the “war on drugs,” they’re now largely missing out on the economic opportunities created by legalization.
If there’s one thing Portlanders love discussing, it’s social justice (how many cities have you heard of with a vegan strip club?), so that’s a pretty shocking stat for P-Town.
A Win for Personal Freedom
Still, for casual weed consumers, legalization is a step forward for personal freedoms. For Jene (not her real name), an elementary school teacher in Southeast Portland, it’s all about her right to buy marijuana privately, without having to buy it illegally.
“I smoke sometimes for my IBS and generally to de-stress,” she says. Although medical marijuana use has been a possibility for Oregonians since 1998, Jene believes that “you risk certain consequences by being on the [medical] list, including possible scrutiny by your employer. I won’t sign up for that.”
Once you register for the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP), it’s up to the state to control who knows you’re toking. Oregonian legislation states that information collected about individuals on the OMMP is confidential, except (uh-oh) that they may provide your information to “other parties” if they consider it to be “necessary to protect the public health and safety.” Essentially, there are confidentiality loopholes that a handful of Portland smokers would rather steer clear of.
For professionals like Jene, who effectively smoke to chill, dispensaries are a great way of going about it: legal outlets that aren’t required to record her personal details.
The Fear of Unintended Consequences
Just because weed is now legal and accessible, however, doesn’t mean it’s risk-free. Some of Portland’s natives are worried that legalizing recreational marijuana has brought, or is going to bring, unintended consequences.
Derek Marsh is a 64-year-old retiree who’s lived in Portland all his life. He says it’s the short-term dangers that concern him the most. Specifically, that there are “more potheads on the roads than ever.” And, unfortunately, the data kinda supports him.
Colorado and Washington – two other states to have legalized marijuana in the past two years – have seen an increase in the number of THC-related DUI charges. Oregon’s assistant attorney general and Oregon’s DUII (Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants) resource prosecutor Deena Ryerson commented that, “Everybody’s worried, for sure… The statistics in Colorado and Washington are very clear. There was a marked increase in marijuana-related DUIs. We have to assume it’s going to be the same in Oregon.”
Actually, we don’t. Since both stoned driving laws and the scientific link between mary jane consumption and car accidents are half-baked. But that doesn’t mean all health fears coming out of weed legalization are unfounded.
The Health Impact
Data also shows “strong” evidence that marijuana use may lead to chronic side effects, including long-term cognitive impairment (in particular, psychosis and schizophrenia), respiratory diseases, and more.
As recreational use isn’t monitored in Oregon, and with marijuana use having doubled in the past decade in North America, there are potential long-term health complications coming out of pot legalization that perhaps can’t yet be fully understood.
“The main problem with the legalization of marijuana really boils down to education, and more specifically miseducation,” McNicoll says. “Due to the lack of credible science based facts surrounding marijuana, there are still many cases of propaganda and misinformation from the public health sector. Many child welfare advocates are using information that is completely inaccurate to base their claims against marijuana and its continued legalization.”
Weed and Religion
Child welfare and health and safety advocates aren’t the only ones just saying no to weed legalization, either. For some, blasting a joint is against the moral code.
“When marijuana legalization was in the ballot, local Catholic leaders in Oregon took a stand against it, arguing that parents have a hard enough time keeping their children out of trouble,” Reporter for the Catholic Sentinel and Portland-based Ed Langlois commented. “The church also argued that kids who use marijuana tend to move on to more serious drugs.”
Catholic Churches around Portland are arguing that “legal doesn’t mean right.” And, pseudo hard-drugs science or not, the church has a point about their marginalization on the issue.
Then there’s the Multnomah County Republican Party. They’re currently are in a tricky place, walking the line between their commitment to states’ rights and a Republican base that’s generally anti-drugs. Since legalization, Portland’s GOPs can mostly be found moaning about the legalization (interestingly, they don’t apply their own their own logic about “intrusive” governmental policies to the weed debate) or protesting the “socialist” sales tax on weed. Sigh.
So, Was Legalization a Good Call?
With the general public’s stance on marijuana decidedly different than it was a decade ago, weed legalization is probably a policy whose time has come for Portland.
What we’ll stop short of saying is whether or not legalization is an entirely positive progression. And that’s because nobody really knows yet, despite the breadth of opinions on the subject.
Still, it’s a step away from stagnant politics of the past. Plus, we’re not going to lie: it’s really fun being able to spark up in broad daylight with no qualms.
Now head over and check out the seven best weed accounts on Snapchat.
- Lead image: Modern Farmer