OREGON: News on Thursday that the federal government plans to ease back on some of its marijuana enforcement will provide momentum to architects of a marijuana legalization initiative in Portland, according to a supporter of legalization who is planning a get-out-the-vote barbecue in September
“It will be good for us,” said Charlie Piefer-Wynott, practitioner with Piefer Patients Alliance, about an announcement Thursday that the Obama administration is “deferring its right to challenge” marijuana legalization laws in states that permit pot and regulate the substance.
Leading up to a “Smoke The Vote” barbecue and pro-marijuana gathering in Portland in September, Piefer-Wynott said participants likely will feel a boost from Thursday’s announcement.
Most notably, the news may give extra impetus to a Portland-based initiative to legalize marijuana in the city. A referendum set for a Tuesday, Nov. 5 vote would change city ordinance so a person could not smoke marijuana in public, but could legally possess up to 2.5 ounces if 21 years of age or older.
The city clerk certified 2,508 signatures to qualify the referendum for the ballot. The barbecue event planned for noon Saturday, Sept. 14 at 136 Ocean Ave., Portland, the new home of the Piefer Patients Alliance, aims to spur a “get-out-the-vote” effort, Piefer-Wynott said.
Piefer-Wynott runs a nonprofit that cares for terminally ill patients, with medical marijuana.
“I think Portland is going to be the first in the state to locally allow it,” he said.
The Obama administration’s announcement gives more legitimacy to Portland’s effort to legalize, Piefer-Wynott said.
“It just makes people look at what we intend to do in a different light,” he said.
Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole issued the announcement in a memo to all U.S. Attorneys outlining enforcement priorities regarding marijuana, stipulating that “enforcement of state law by state and local law enforcement and regulatory bodies should remain the primary means of addressing marijuana-related activity.”
The memo sent ripples through the pro-legalization community, members of which were already ecstatic over recent votes in Colorado and Washington to decriminalize marijuana.
“At the heart of the guidance is a willingness to respect the voters who have decided a regulated marijuana market is preferable to a criminal market in their states,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. “Cannabis-related businesses in these states are creating thousands of jobs and generating tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue. These are clear public benefits. Now is not the time to push marijuana sales back under ground. The new voter-approved, regulated systems in Colorado and Washington should be allowed to proceed.”
Dan Riffle, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation’s largest marijuana policy organization, said Thursday, “Today’s announcement is a major and historic step toward ending marijuana prohibition. The Department of Justice’s decision to allow implementation of the laws in Colorado and Washington is a clear signal that states are free to determine their own policies with respect to marijuana. We applaud the Department of Justice and other federal agencies for its thoughtful approach and sensible decision. It is time for the federal government to start working with state officials to develop enforcement policies that respect state voters, as well as federal interests. The next step is for Congress to act. We need to fix our nation’s broken marijuana laws and not just continue to work around them.”
In 2009, 59 percent of Maine voters supported an initiative to create medical marijuana dispensaries.
News that the Department of Justice is conditionally deferring its right to challenge Colorado and Washington legalization laws doesn’t equate to a home run for legalization advocates, however, officials cautioned.
States still are advised to create or maintain regulatory structures, said Becky DeKeuster, executive clinical director of the nonprofit Wellness Connection of Maine, the 2011-started nonprofit network of medical cannabis dispensaries in Brewer, Hallowell, Portland and Thomaston.
“If you look at the trajectory of this movement, regulation is the way,” she said.
“Colorado had a very robust regulatory system for its dispensaries and we’re not hearing any concerns about that,” DeKeuster said. “I think Maine has done a fantastic job, I think certainly we engaged earlier this year with the state in terms of just getting clarity around the rules.”
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said in a statement Thursday that the “continued operation and proliferation of unregulated, for-profit entities outside of the state’s regulatory and licensing scheme is not tenable and violates both state and federal law.”
The lesson from these examples is that enforcement will not vanish. “In states where at some level the regulators are deeply engaged in oversight of the industry, we have much less federal enforcement action,” DeKeuster said.
The general direction of the Obama administration on marijuana enforcement is the right one, DeKeuster said.
“We don’t think that’s a good use of law enforcement resources to deal with responsible adult users of marijuana,” she said.