Marijuana in Oregon is only MOSTLY legal

Dan Lucas_July 2012_BW

by Dan Lucas

In the brilliant 1987 movie The Princess Bride, Billy Crystal’s character Miracle Max tells some people asking for his help “your friend here is only MOSTLY dead.”

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission was in the news recently for their $350,000 campaign to educate Oregonians about the state legalization of recreational marijuana that goes into effect today. Campaign materials and the OLCC website state “Starting July 1, Oregon’s recreational marijuana laws are in effect. That means adults age 21 and older can legally possess and use recreational marijuana.”

That’s not true.

Starting today, it will be legal under Oregon law for adults to “legally possess and use recreational marijuana.” As I’ve noted previously, however, it will still be a very serious federal crime to possess and use marijuana.

So maybe the OLCC campaign should be saying that after July 1st recreational marijuana will be MOSTLY legal.

I was kind of stunned that an Oregon state agency like OLCC would be so irresponsible in educating Oregonians about the new state law. For something as trivial as honey sold at a farmer’s market, Oregon has a Farm Direct honey requirement about how it has to be labeled. But Oregon won’t let you know that possessing or using marijuana is still a very serious federal crime. Instead, they tell you “can legally possess and use recreational marijuana.”

Marijuana is a very serious federal crime because it is still listed as a Schedule I drug under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. Penalties for Schedule I drugs are the most severe – more than for Schedule II drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine or other Schedule III to Schedule V drugs like codeine or Valium. As I noted previously, “Anyone growing, selling or possessing marijuana is still committing a federal crime punishable by at least up to five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000.”

This has also been true of Oregon’s existing state legalization of medical marijuana. As USA Today reported a few months ago “That’s because federal law makes no distinction between medical and recreational marijuana — it’s all illegal.” In Colorado, where marijuana has also been legalized at the state level, the state Solicitor General has acknowledged “No one contends that Colorado law trumps the federal marijuana ban or immunizes anyone from federal prosecution.”

The reality is that marijuana users or sellers in Oregon will be in a legal gray area. Because of the state law and the view of the current administration in Washington D.C., it’s unlikely that most people in Oregon will ever be arrested or charged for using or selling marijuana. But the point is they could be. And the charges could be very serious, and so Oregonians should be aware of that as they make their decisions. The OLCC should be including that important information in their campaign.

Additionally, as I noted in a previous column, when a new president takes office in January 2017, they could decide to start enforcing existing federal marijuana drug laws again. At least one presidential candidate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), said last month that he’d return to prosecuting in states with legalized marijuana.

Anyone in Oregon considering using or selling marijuana should also be aware that by federal law they’re not allowed to buy or own firearms, and they should know that Oregon’s new state law won’t prevent them from being fired for marijuana use if their employer wants to.

The OLCC’s marijuana awareness campaign is laudable. People need to understand the new state law. OLCC needs to move past any political restraints, however, and fully educate Oregonians on all the aspects of the new state law.

UPDATE (9/21/2015): KGW: Feds still waging war on weed in Oregon “Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.”

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