Too Little Too Late: Biden Falls Short of Delivering Justice

Written by Dominic Adams. Illustrated by Dani DeGraw.

On Oct. 6, 2022, the Biden administration granted a pardon for the offense of simple possession of cannabis. This pardon expunged records for roughly 6,500 people who had been charged with that crime, according to Reuters. At face value, this seems to be a positive step towards repairing the damage caused by the federal War on Drugs.

The first crack in this facade is the fact that zero people were in federal prison for simple possession of cannabis at the time of Biden’s pardon as reported by The New York Times. The most anyone benefiting from the pardon can look forward to is a clean record. The unfortunate truth is this proclamation is a half-measure that’s all talk and no walk. The White House only has the power to grant pardons for those charged with federal crimes. Therefore, people charged at the state level for simple possession of cannabis in any of the 30 states where cannabis is still illegal, do not benefit. Biden’s statement does include a plea to state officials to perform a similar pardon, but nothing has come of it yet. So, disappointingly, no one will actually be released from prison, state or federal, as a result of this pardon.

The most critical proof that this pardon is a hollow pittance is the fact that 99% of people in federal prison for drug-related crimes are charged with drug trafficking, and not simple possession, according to the DOJ. As a general rule, federal prosecutors do not prosecute simple possession of cannabis because in most cases it is out of their jurisdiction. In other cases, the crime is simply not severe enough to warrant federal action when it could be handled at the state level. This is why only 1% of all victims of the federal War on Drugs benefit, while the vast majority continue to languish within the prison industrial complex.

The president’s clemency in this case does very little to solve the systemic issues which continue to plague our justice system. Even the proclamation itself, somewhat ironically, showed how little the needle has moved. The federal government still refers to cannabis as marijuana in the official title of the pardon. Marijuana, a term with a storied and frankly racist past, is an antiquity that should be collecting dust – not standing proudly on White House letterhead. But what did we expect from a government that has routinely ignored scientific findings on the relative safety of cannabis? The same government has vilified cannabis and used it as an excuse to over-police underserved communities. I hate to be a stick in the mud, but despite how much I would like for this pardon to represent progress, we’ve really only been given an inch.

Since its inception, the War on Drugs has unfairly targeted people of color and other minority groups. If the intent of this war was indeed to save us all from the evils of drugs, it doesn’t seem to be working. In fact, drug use under these policies has significantly risen, and overdose deaths are higher than they have ever been, according to the NIDA. The Feds have handily lost this war, but the public did not win. These policies have, on the other hand, been wildly successful in accelerating mass incarceration and creating the prison industrial hellscape we know today.

Another massive problem within the War on Drugs is the current scheduling of cannabis. And on a somewhat more positive note, the Biden White House addressed the issue in its proclamation and has requested a review of the Schedule I classification of cannabis. However, no progress can be made until that review yields any actual change. Until that day cannabis remains a Schedule I drug, despite the fact that the “Schedule” system is designed to classify drugs in order of how dangerous they are to one’s health. It’s hard to take a government seriously when the drug that makes me want to listen to disco and pig out on hummus has been assessed to be on par with heroin and more dangerous than fentanyl (Schedule II), which claimed the lives of 71,238 people in 2021, according to the CDC. When or if cannabis is rescheduled, I might feel hopeful, but it is much too early to jump for joy.

In addition to rescheduling cannabis and other drugs, the government needs to take a very hard look at the complete failure of punitive justice when applied to drug use. There simply isn’t a demonstrable value to imprisoning drug users according to the NIDA. And yet, there are still people in state prison for simple possession charges who have lost civil rights and years of their life. We must ask ourselves: How is this helping them? I am absolutely certain prison is far more damaging to an individual than smoking cannabis ever could be.

Here’s the hard truth: The War on Drugs isn’t over, and the vast majority of casualties will never get justice for the wrongs done to them. I’m happy for the few that received clemency, but I can’t help but be immensely disappointed for the 30,000 or so people across America who are still in prison for something that is legal in 20 states. This country doesn’t have a drug problem, it has a drug enforcement problem. Until we fundamentally change how we view punitive measures for nonviolent offenders, justice can never truly be served.

What’s happening with the MORE Act?

Written by Megan McEntee

Legislators are working on our nation’s next step in healing the wounds from the war on drugs. But what is it, and why should we support it? Here is everything you need to know about the current landscape of federal decriminalization.

What is the MORE Act?

The MORE Act, also known as the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, is a comprehensive plan to better incorporate cannabis into a federally legal market. Cannabis is currently listed as a Schedule I controlled substance, according to the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) – a law that regulates certain drugs on a tiered scale according to their potential risk of abuse and dependence. There are five tiers to this system, and federally, cannabis sits on the same tier as heroin and LSD. The MORE Act would deschedule cannabis from the CSA, erase criminal penalties and create a safer space in the United States for laborers and consumers in the industry.

Why do we want to pass it?

Other than the obvious benefit of federal decriminalization – being able to consume legally – there would be countless benefits if the bill passes. Primarily, it would allow cannabis to be regulated for consumer safety, call for the release of marginalized and incarcerated individuals for small cannabis violations and help phase the plant out of the illicit market. If cannabis were federally legal, the FDA would be able to conduct more research on the medicinal benefits as well. Overall, the MORE Act would be a huge step in the de-stigmatization of cannabis and a safer market for everyone involved. It would also create a safer environment for consumers, because it would help create a landscape in which citizens can consume without fear of repercussions. 

What has happened so far?

The bill first passed the House of Representatives in 2020 but did not end up passing the senate. It was reintroduced in May of 2021 and passed the house again on April 1, 2022. The vote was mostly divided on party lines with support on the left. 

What still needs to happen?

The MORE Act is expected to face opposition in the senate. It remains divided on party lines, with only three republican backers at this point. Additionally, the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has introduced an opposing bill: The Cannabis Administrative and Opportunity Act. The two competing bills may create a deadlock, resulting in little to no progress in this session of Congress. The Senate vote date has not been announced yet, but democratic senators are pushing to introduce the bill prior to the recess in August.

Other provisions in the bill – so stoners can read it:

  • Legal documents must call it cannabis instead of marijuana
  • Race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality statistics on cannabis business owners and employees must be published regularly
  • Creates a trust fund for people and businesses impacted by the war on drugs
  • Imposes taxes on various parts of the cannabis manufacturing, importing and exporting processes
  • Provides loans available to cannabis-related businesses
  • Protects federal benefits – such as Social Security – for people who engage in the cannabis community
  • Protects benefits for immigrants who engage in the cannabis community
  • Creates an expungement process for people with federal cannabis offenses
  • Requires the government to study the societal impact of decriminalization
  • Requires the government to study the true signs driving under the influence of cannabis
  • Requires the government to study the cultural impact of legal cannabis, specifically on schools and workplaces 

Understanding Oregon’s Cannabis Arrest and Incarceration Data

Written by Mac Larsen

Oregon’s incarceration data provides insight into the progress and problems with the state’s drug policies and legislation. In 1973 Oregon became the first state to decriminalize the possession of cannabis, displaying progressive attitudes about drug consumption among voters and politicians. By looking at the state of Oregon’s own Department of Corrections (DOC) data, we can begin to see how the rate of arrest and incarceration for crimes related to federally controlled substances has evolved. While Oregon is making progress in decreasing these numbers, many southern counties are facing a myriad of challenges with illegal cannabis operations, which could lead to the possible increase of arrests as the pandemic continues. 

Across Oregon, arrest and incarceration disparities show inequities in the criminal justice apparatus for people of color. Looking at data from 2018, law enforcement would need a reduction of 351 arrests and 21 felony convictions for Black Oregonians to match the same rate for white individuals. This metric, raw differential representation (RDR), is used in the analysis of bias in criminal justice system across the country. In 2015, the rate of felony possession arrests was 150 arrests higher for Black Oregonians than white ones. These disparities convey that progress for drug arrests and convictions are most often beneficial only for white individuals and the predominant burden of these policies falls on historically marginalized groups. 

THE LAWS THAT HAVE CHANGED THE DATA 

There are several changes to controlled substances and cannabis legalization law in Oregon that affect the way that the numbers change over time. 2012 saw the first contemporary legalization bill raised as a state ballot measure, two years later a similar ballot measure was passed by 56% of voters. The differences between local law, state law and federal law is at the heart of most conflict surrounding cannabis legalization.

For example, in 2019 the State Senate passed Senate Bill 420 which “establishes procedures for persons with qualifying marijuana convictions to file motion requesting court to enter order setting aside conviction,” according to the Oregon Legislature’s website. This allows for those with prior cannabis related convictions to have these expunged from their records if the conviction would no longer stand under current Oregon law. This can be helpful for those seeking to apply for mortgages, find employment, or any other area where formerly incarcerated individuals find a burden of prejudice. 

The Oregon Criminal Justice Commission has also updated their Possession of Controlled Substances report to track the changes that House Bill 2355 has had on the drug trend data in the state. This law reclassified the crime of possession of a controlled substance (PCS) from a Class B or C felony to a Class A misdemeanor. This changed the maximum sentencing for these crimes from ten years and a $250,000 fine to one year and a $6250 fine. HB 2355 took effect in 2017 and decreased the number of felony drug convictions by 61%. 

CANNABIS ARRESTS BY THE NUMBERS 

In 2020, arrests for the sale of cannabis were down by 23% and arrests for the possession were down 34%. These are trends that show how law enforcement is deprioritizing cannabis as a controlled substance when it comes to pursuing drug related crimes. However, between 2015 and 2020, these statistics have been inconsistent, and we can see from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR) that arrests for cannabis sales have actually increased by 3%. 

CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE CRIME STATEWIDE | TRENDS 2012 – 2018

CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE CRIME LANE COUNTY | TRENDS 2012 – 2018

Oregon’s UCR data also portrays a downward trend for both drug related arrests and convictions using their dashboard on the Criminal Justice Commission’s website. This data does include all PCS related crime so it’s important to account for the small proportion that cannabis crime makes up of that total. The swap between a predominant number of misdemeanors and felonies occurs over 2017, the same year that HB 2355 took place, which demonstrates the importance of changing the law for sentencing. 

To better understand the state’s given data, there’s a benefit in analyzing what percentage of total drug crimes cannabis possession and sales make up. In 2015, cannabis crime made up 37% of arrests, while six years later in 2020 that percentage had decreased by 9%, leaving cannabis crime only a quarter of the total arrests. 

DRUG INCARCERATIONS IN LANE CO. AND BEYOND 

In Lane County in 2021, there are currently 24 total individuals incarcerated for drug crimes, 16 of which are currently out on probation. These numbers have been dropping steadily since 2015 and show how the implementation of decriminalization laws of both cannabis and other narcotic drugs has led to a decrease in incarcerations. For statewide drug incarcerations this decrease is far less steep, between 2016 and 2019, the number of incarcerations hovered around 1070 and didn’t decrease significantly until 2020 with the pandemic leading to higher rates of probation and less incarcerations. This could be because of the decriminalization of street drugs in 2019 or due to an increase in releases because of COVID dangers. 2021 saw the largest decrease in all drug count incarcerations with a change from 440 first drug sentences in 2019 to 282 in 2020 to only 219 in 2021. 

These trends, decreasing arrests and lower incarcerations rates, show Oregon’s steps forward to prioritize other forms of resources for drug related crimes instead of a reliance on the criminal justice system. Yet, with $25 million in federal funding currently backing southern Oregon’s pursuit of illegal cannabis growers, we could see an increase in arrests and incarcerations in 2022.

METHODOLOGY

Green Eugene gathered incarceration and arrests data using the Oregon state Commission for Criminal Justice statistical dashboard and the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting database. Much of the raw data was unavailable for public analysis but information from UCR was independently analyzed by the author. The visuals that come from the CCJ dashboards are attributed and can be found here. Both Oregon’s and the FBI’s data report through the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) which collects crime data that is independently reported to the agencies. In 2020, the FBI received NIBRS data from 175 of 234 law enforcement agencies in the state. 

Cultivating Progress: Cultiva Law

Written and photographed by Megan McEntee

Aaron Pelley made his name as a cannabis lawyer in the early 2000s. He not only won a large case, but made the argument that his client deserved to get his cannabis back. 

“That made them the first police station slash dispensary in the United States,” said Pelley jokingly. His passion for this standard of justice inspired Pelley to create what is now known as Cultiva Law. 

Cultiva Law is a firm dedicated to the cannabis industry: dealing with legal, business and compliance related cases all around the west coast. Chris Girard, paralegal and strategic operations at Cultiva, describes the firm’s ultimate goal as “the furtherance of policy and the plant.” I had the opportunity to sit down with Girard and Pelley, founder and CEO, to speak about cannabis law and the industry, as well as issues that arise within the livelihood of a lawyer in this field.

 Pelley started out as a criminal defense lawyer dealing with domestic violence and sex offense cases. After a few months, he realized that he didn’t want to represent sex offenders and domestic abusers. 

“If I was going to continue doing it, I was going to represent people committing the kind of crimes that I could see myself committing,” Pelley said. So he began representing drug-related cases. 

This was back in the early 2000s, when there were only one or two “pot” lawyers, as they were called by the general public, in each state. Once medical cannabis started rising in popularity, he began handling the corporate side of the budding industry. 

“I knew I wasn’t smart enough to host an entire corporate law firm,” said Pelley. “So I started hiring other lawyers to handle the transactional side of this.” Enter Cultiva Law. 

Cultiva thrives on its connection to the culture of the industry. Dependent on building the trust of clientele in this field, cannabis lawyers need to be well versed with both industry knowledge and an understanding of the client on a personal level. Pelley takes this aspect of the job very seriously, articulating that a relational understanding is just as important as a legal understanding of cannabis. 

“I have to be the person that they trust,” Pelley said. “These other lawyers aren’t as good if they don’t understand the culture. They don’t understand the people… and frankly, they just don’t understand the outlaw mentality.” Pelley works with a variety of clients who are trying to navigate the newly legalized industry. Many of these clients have complicated criminal histories. Pelley recognises this, stating “these guys were former outlaws, and yeah, they need to be reformed. But they come from a different place.” 

The stigma surrounding cannabis and other drugs creates this social divide, as well as the recency of decriminalization in Oregon creating a new realm of legal uncertainty. Cultiva takes measures to make sure these people feel safe in the wake of a stressful situation with the law. Whether it’s the rocket-shaped paraphernalia in the lobby of the office, the psychedelic band posters on the walls, or the laid-back demeanor of the staff, Cultiva designs every part of the experience to make clients feel safe and seen. 

Misconceptions about cannabis use, both medicinal and recreational, plague the justice system. Pelley has helped countless medical patients with legal issues. “They’re using the drug to become functional. And people that are using cannabis recreationally are functional, and they’re using it to become impaired,” said Pelley.

Let’s say someone uses medicinal cannabis to treat their epilepsy, and they get pulled over; Pelley introduced this hypothetical with a fresh perspective. 

“What do you want more? Do you want a person driving down the road that could have epileptic seizures? Or do you want somebody who’s using cannabis medicinally, and in very measured doses, in order to prevent his seizures?” Context matters in a courtroom, and the current systems in Oregon tend to lack the leeway needed to accommodate these situations, according to Pelley. 

Cannabis DUIs are a hot-button issue within the legal and law enforcement community. It is a class B traffic violation if the driver or passenger consumes cannabis while inside the motor vehicle, according to Oregon Revised Statute (ORS) 811.482. There is a lot of discourse surrounding whether or not smell should be considered probable cause, especially considering possession of cannabis alone is no longer illegal in Oregon. Scent could just mean there is cannabis in the vehicle, which is legal as long as the person in possession is over 21 and the product is sealed in a closed container. 

“Smell doesn’t always equal consumption. The scent of marijuana should be no different than the smell of coffee,” said Pelley. 

Cultiva Law’s caseload is largely business-related, and as such, Girard had insights on how the fallout of the war on drugs impacted disadvantaged populations struggling to break into the industry. Directly after the commercial sale of cannabis was legalized in Oregon in 2014, the first people to start dispensaries tended to be small growers with large investors. These investment groups required startup money to be vetted, meaning the funds were examined for risk potential. 

For people who were selling cannabis in the illicit market prior to legalization, this new requirement posed an issue in moving into the legal market. 

“Ironic that they don’t want people that made a lot of money selling weed to be licensed, and make the state taxes,” said Girard. “I mean, this drug trade originally was built on an inclusiveness of all racial categories, and of all economic categories… And so when we look at the recreational market, it should be no different.” 

This has contributed to an imbalance in the industry when it comes to the racial and socioeconomic background of cannabis business owners. “It’s insane, the economic divide that’s in the industry,” said Girard, “I think that divide is also what keeps the war on drugs going… what keeps it fueled.” The Oregon government has made an effort to remedy this through social equity programs. 

In 2016, the Social Equity and Educational Development (SEED) program was introduced in Oregon. One of the initiatives in this program, the SEED grant, aims to provide more accessible licenses to people in “economically disparaged areas and discriminated groups” receive special consideration for a cannabis business license. 

“I think that we’re gonna see a lot more opportunities that then may be granted to the industry as a whole once we see the positive effects they have,” said Girard. 

One opinion seemed universal across the conversation: once cannabis is legalized federally, progress will come faster. And what we’re seeing is that the economic development that legalized commerce is providing is actually pushing the state legislature to catch up. 

For example, the DEA and USPS are currently working together on policy regarding the mailability of Delta-9 THC, due to the economic opportunities it will provide as well as the precedent set by the mailability of hemp flower. 

“We’re seeing the end to the war on drugs, not through presidential action or legislative action like we’ve been promised for so many decades by every politician. Now we’re seeing it because of the mechanisms of an industry that are forcing it to happen,” said Girard. “It’s phenomenal to watch.”

The staff at Cultiva Law are working hard to try and remedy a broken system, and an infantile industry. Whether it’s taking countless pro-bono cases, filling the pews of a courtroom, or fighting tooth-and-nail for their clients; they are making a difference that can be reflected in the tides of a developing industry and culture. “I don’t think anybody should be going to jail for a plant,” said Pelley with a wry chuckle. “I just don’t.”

 But change is happening, one small win at a time. “Change has to come slowly. Otherwise it’s too chaotic,” said Girard. “Right?” 

Prosecuting Peace: lasting impacts of cannabis prohibition 

Written and photographed by Gino Savaria 

The isolated backwoods of Douglas county enticed Chris Poulos as a reprieve from the excessive stimulation he was sensitive to. It seemed like a perfect first home for him and an ideal place to grow cannabis— until he spent four years immersed in a battle with Oregon’s judicial system.

Poulos shared that he has struggled with PTSD from a young age, and that he is on the autism spectrum. He said it wasn’t until he tried cannabis as an adolescent that he realized the chronic stress and dissociation he was used to was not the only way of being. 

“When you’re 15, you don’t know what the hell’s going on, but I realized ‘wow, I suddenly feel better when I use this substance,’” Poulos said. 

By his late 20s, he had grown a passion for cannabis, as well as about 70 developed plants. He said that many of his friends couldn’t grasp how he calmly produced a small farm in his house while Douglas county tended to deal harsh sentences for cannabis related crimes. To Poulos, the risks hardly registered. 

That was until Feb. 16, 1996, when two police detectives drove past numerous cautionary road signs and up Poulos’s steep gravel driveway. In an appellate brief of the incident, the two officers reported receiving an anonymous tip that led them to the backwoods residency. Poulos said that to this day, he does not know exactly where they received their information from, but suspects the electric company’s meter reader. 

Poulos said that as they spoke at the top of his drive, the lead detective identified a cannabis plant sitting in a second story window. Poulos believed this would have been far outside their vantage point. 

“They came at 10 a.m. when the sun’s fairly high and the window is more of a mirror, and yet they somehow knew there was a plant behind it. Which was stupid to leave there of course on my part, but I don’t know if there was anything I could have done at that point,” said Poulos.

He said the officers seemed to show up loaded with the information they needed to make an arrest. Yet, according to official records from the court of appeals, they failed to secure a search warrant before arriving. Although the injustice was obvious, the point was moot.

“What was interesting to me was the lead detective had a macho attitude seeming to say, ‘I’m hot shit, and I can do whatever the fuck I want. I’ll throw your ass in jail. I don’t need a search warrant,’” said Poulos.

He recounted that the officers locked him in a Roseburg jail cell for four nights. On Feb. 21st, he was released 45 miles from his home without a vehicle or money to help him get home. When he returned to his property, it was as if he had been robbed. His truck, his house, his CD collection; the state had seized it all, claiming it must have been purchased with drug money, according to Poulos. Intending to push back against the infringement on his freedom,, Poulos quickly hired Robert McCrea, an attorney based out of Eugene. 

“Back then, especially in Douglas County, they were sentencing people for 20 years. So my attorney wasn’t gung ho or like ‘we’re going to get you out of this.’ I guess he didn’t want to make any claims he didn’t know for sure,” said Poulos. 

For eight months the case loomed over his head, leaving him to simmer on the diverging paths ahead of him. He said that when the day of the trial finally arrived, the prosecution approached McCrea with what Poulos believed to be a decent offer: the state agreed to keep him out of prison as long as he pleaded guilty. 

“I think that’s usually their plan when they acquire evidence without a warrant, and most of the time people probably take the deal because they don’t want to go to jail. It’s kind of like a little scam,” said Poulos. 

Poulos said their defense was based on sound logic and McCrea appeared relatively optimistic, so he decided to deny the plea deal. They instead argued that the arresting officers lacked a warrant, and signs warning trespassers should have made it clear that Poulos did not welcome uninvited guests to his property.

According to Poulos, the presiding judge, Joan Glawe Seitz, had commented that she was familiar with the area and would have been uncomfortable driving up to his house herself. He said the case wrapped up fairly quickly and Seitz declared him innocent of the charges against him. However, the prosecution immediately filed a notice of appeal, claiming the judge was biased and the case deserved a retrial. Poulos’s relief vanished as he remained suspended in the legal system’s web. 

“They just made it as hard for me as possible. While they used tax money to pay the prosecutor, they knew I’d bleed from my own pocket. My attorney wasn’t gonna do the appeal for free,” Poulos said. 

With the state still in possession of his truck, his only mode of transportation at the time, and his debts compounding, Poulos turned back to cannabis as a source of income. He said he didn’t see much of a choice, and feared losing his house if his bills were left unpaid. 

A year after his first arrest while awaiting an appeal, Poulos came home to find a note left by county law enforcement requesting that he surrender himself. The detectives searched his home while he was out—but this time they had a warrant, he said. 

Poulos called McCrea, who suggested he listen to their note. After spending one night in a jail cell, he was released with another trial ahead of him. 

According to Poulos, they obtained the warrant for his second arrest by using information from the still open first case. 

On July 23, 1997, three appellate judges considered the arguments made by the prosecuting and defending attorneys. The prosecution claimed that the no trespassing signs and various others  posted were insufficient to imply the detectives were unwelcome, and he should have erected a physical barrier instead. McCrea challenged these allegations, asserting that the measures Poulos took were sufficient enough.

The appellate judges affirmed the ruling of the first trial, stating that “there was no evidence that even the customary casual visitor would be welcome on [the] defendant’s property.”

Half the evidence the prosecution held against Poulos dissolved with this judgment, and freedom appeared within reach. Yet, the state still justified its warrant. They argued that his electric bill was far too high for a property without a permanent resident. 

“This was my house. I lived there every day and they just flat out lied about it,” he said. 

According to Poulos, the second trial revolved around this new notion. The state presented that the Registered Guard receptacle sitting beneath his mailbox was overstuffed with newspapers, and was apparent proof he did not actively live there. Combined with a statement from the electric company regarding significant power usage, they argued that the property was solely a cannabis farm.  

“I wasn’t receiving any newspapers at the time, so I would just take the junk mail and stuff it in the Registered Guard receptacle, not really thinking much of it. I wanted to hold up that newspaper receptacle and say, judge does this fucking look like newspapers to you? Or does this look like trash?” said Poulos.

However, he did not need to; after a third trial he was once again declared not guilty. He said that this judge even appeared fairly irritated with the lead detective, who at this point Poulos felt was  harassing him. 

As the prosecution ran out of steam, they made a hail mary effort for an appeal that once again ended in favor of Poulos.

Poulos narrowly avoided prison, but he did not get off scot free. He soon found the Department of Revenue billing him for $18,000. This was money he did not have, and as interest rates approached 10%, he felt cornered. Poulos said that he didn’t really know what he was supposed to do, so he just kept filling out forms the Department of Revenue sent him, hoping it would stall the process a bit—and once again found his way back to growing cannabis

After numerous documents sent back and forth, he was slightly surprised to see that he had another court date. This time, he would be the prosecutor. He found a tax lawyer in Eugene and pushed for the absolvement of the debt. 

He was disappointed to learn that while they could not throw him in jail, the department of revenue had no issue fining him. In the end he was able to take the fee down to $8,000.

“There’s a lot of things that get fucked up when the state comes in and interferes with your life. So you know, it kind of forced me to address my anger and where my life was because ultimately it’s up to me,” said Poulos

Nearly 15 years after his first arrest, a bout of depression pushed him to turn off his grow lights and leave his cannabis plants in the past. Yet, nurturing plants continues to be a daily ritual that helps him find peace. Poulos said that he sustains an ample garden and greenhouse of vegetables, but he does not grow cannabis anymore.

As he sorted through potatoes crowded by eager shoots he reflected. “I am so thankful that, now, I can just walk two blocks to a store and buy standardized edibles without any danger of getting arrested.”

What you need to know about cannabis law in 2022

Written and Photographed by Alice Yeager 

Beginning on January 1st, 2022, the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission (OLCC) outlined new law changes going into effect for the sale of cannabis products. Most of the rules specifically affect the sale and distribution of cannabis products, but there is news for consumers as well. These changes will increase the amount customers can buy as well as regulate safer packaging with better information on dosage and ingredients. If you don’t want to sit down and read the twelve-page compliance bulletin to find out exactly how this is going to affect you, the customer, then don’t worry: I’ll do it for you!

  • The amount of smokable cannabis you can purchase as a recreational user has been increased from one ounce to two ounces. As we are seeing a surge in the COVID-19 Omicron variant this raise comes at the perfect time for people trying to limit their contact with the outside world. Now is the perfect time to stock up, stay home and light up. 
  • This increase will also affect THC based concentrated edibles. You can now purchase 100 MG of edible concentrates which is doubled from the previous 50 MG. 
  • There are also some changes coming to cannabis delivery, which will now allow some counties and cities to deliver to areas outside their formerly regulated radiuses. This will potentially allow more access for cannabis users in rural or disputed areas who may not feel comfortable or have the access to go to a dispensary. 
  • There will also be increased focus on safety and regulation of artificial cannabis products. Manufacturers will now need to provide GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) grade certification to the FDA before being sold to consumers. As consumable cannabis becomes more popular this is an important step in expecting the same level of quality with cannabis consumables as you would regular food items. 

With the new changes to the Oregon law it may be hard to keep track of what exactly you can or can’t do as a recreational consumer. Don’t worry: here’s my guide for consuming cannabis safely and legally. And of course, these guides are for people 21 and older. 

Q: How much cannabis can I keep on my person when I’m out in public?

As of February 2022, Oregon has yet to update their guidelines on recreational user possession limits to reflect the new purchase limit. It’s safe to assume that you can still only possess up to one ounce on you at a time in public spaces. It’s best to be on the safer side and try not be out and about with more than an ounce until an official update has been released.

Q: Is it legal for me to drive after consuming cannabis products? I am still a competent driver while I’m high. 

Driving under the influence of cannabis is not only illegal but also not cool. Being high and deciding to drive can land you a DUI, which leads to fines well over $1,000 and even jail time. The CDC has also found that cannabis use negatively affects reaction time and coordination, and can become dangerous when behind the wheel. Don’t put yourself or others in danger; take the bus or grab a lift. Seriously. Don’t drive high. 

Q: I’m traveling down to California. Can I bring some Oregon paraphernalia and products with me?

Sorry but no, you cannot legally bring cannabis from Oregon to another state even if cannabis is legal in that state. So smoke it all before crossing state lines—even Washington and California. 

Q: Where can I smoke?

A: The rule of thumb is you can smoke on private property but not in public places. So locations such as parks, bars and concerts are all places you can get into serious trouble for consuming cannabis. In these sorts of environments, it is best to use common sense and avoid situations where you are consuming marjuana around people who may not consent. The best place to consume is at home or at a friend’s place where you are on private property. 

Q: What if I rent my home?

A: This is up to your landlord, they reserve the right to make up the rules on their own property within reason. The most common issue is if you are smoking in a rented unit, most often landlords will provide information on their smoking policy in your lease. You may have to find other ways of consuming cannabis in your home based around the policies you and your landlord have agreed to. 

You can read the full 2022 law here: https://www.oregon.gov/olcc/marijuana/Documents/Bulletins/Compliance_2021_04.pdf

Then vs. Now: Reflecting on Oregon’s relationship with cannabis

Written by Lily Brennan

Last year when I moved to Oregon, my father and I did a cross-country road trip from New York. As soon as we crossed from Idaho and into the Beaver State, we were instantly welcomed to the first dispensary we’ve ever seen, with New York still being an illegal state and all. And as we ventured onward, it seemed as though the further you traveled into the state, the more apparent cannabis was for Oregonian lifestyles and cultures. It had me wondering…

What was Oregon like before recreational legalization in 2015? Would I have been a bit less shell-shocked if I had moved here prior? Coming from a state where I was used to the negative connotations and illegal activity pinned on cannabis use, I was interested in finding out just how much Oregon may have changed due to its legalization.

Background

Oregon was the first state to have decriminalized small amounts of weed in 1973, as well as one of the first that allowed medical use. This being said, tolerance has a history of being challenged by those who oppose it, and this was no different for recreational legalization.

On November 4th, 2014, there was a statewide ballot that contained the Oregon Legalized Marijuana Initiative, Measure 91, otherwise known as the Control, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana and Industrial Hemp Act of 2014. This went on as an initiated state ballot (a citizen-initiated ballot measure that amends state law) which was then approved by only 56.11% in favor.

Measure 91 legalized recreational cannabis for people ages 21 and older, allowing them in turn to possess up to eight ounces of “dried marijuana” and up to four plants. After its initial approval in 2014, Governor Kate Brown signed its legislation on July 27, 2015, making the first legal sale date for marijuana up a year to October 1, 2015. Oregon was officially the third state in the US to legalize recreational cannabis use.

The Initial Aftermath

It seemed almost instant that recreational cannabis was a controversial topic in Oregon. During the 2015 legislative session, the Oregon Legislature considered a 17 to 20% state sales tax on marijuana retail sales. This upset many individuals who were already practicing medical cannabis use, but also those who planned to start legally purchasing for recreational use. Others found it as a beneficial opportunity for the state.

Opinions seemed relevant to county locations as well. For example, legislation was also designed in 2015 to allow counties where 55 percent or more of voters opposed Measure 91 to ban cannabis sales. A total of 15 counties rejected the initiative by that margin, all of which are east of the Cascade Range.

Overall, the reaction to Measure 91 passing was extreme from both ends. Some were incredibly joyful while others were absolutely enraged. At this time, many were unsure of how this would affect societal interactions, taxation, local cultures, regulations, or even the impressions of the state in relation to the rest of the US.

So… Did Things Change?

After legalization, recreational cannabis became an incredibly successful industry across Oregon. In mid-2016, there were fewer than 100 Oregon businesses licensed to sell recreational cannabis. Applications for licenses began to skyrocket towards the very last months of 2016, partially due to the legalization that required businesses to obtain a “recreational license” from the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission (OLCC) in order to recreationally sell, effective Jan. 1, 2017. The number of licensed retailers nearly tripled in the one-month span from early Dec. 2016 to early Jan. 2017.

As expected, state and local recreational cannabis sales/excise taxes generated (and still does today) a hefty amount of tax revenue. For example, over $78 million in tax revenue was generated in 2017, the same year that licenses were a requirement in order to sell recreationally. Many may wonder where this tax revenue goes. A 2019 audit found that “most of the collected taxes have gone toward shortages in the city’s general fund and specifically to police and transportation programs.” 

Socially, it seems much more widely accepted to use cannabis now. Despite the controversy that sprouted from its initial legalization, recreational cannabis use has become extremely common, and is even seen as equivalent to alcohol consumption by many. There are still some Oregonians who don’t support it, but reports have found this to be heavily related to generational and regional differences. Many report that Oregon’s prior history in relation to cannabis may have helped dissipate the initial tension, as medical legalization in 1998 paved a way to remove negative connotations associated with weed.

Culturally, much of Oregon stayed the same. Similarly to how medical legalization began to normalize cannabis use, cannabis itself had already begun assimilating into Oregonian cultures for decades. Recreational use becoming legal created a larger space and community for consumption across the state, even as far as having cannabis-themed restaurants or bars. The cultural tolerance to weed stayed the same, while the execution of the practice became more publicized.

Reflection

Despite only being legalized recreationally six years ago, cannabis has been oriented into Oregonian cultures and lifestyles for numerous decades. As Oregonians it is important that we all understand the recreational laws, and continue to educate ourselves to keep both ourselves and the greater community safe.

Bound by Her Conscience: Annette Buchanan

Written by Annie McVay, photos courtesy of EMG

Since cannabis was legalized in Oregon six years ago, on Oct. 1, 2015, it seems like a thing of the past to remember how nerve-wracking being a cannabis connoisseur once was. Public opinion about cannabis has changed greatly over the last few years. It almost seems like smoking a joint is less offensive than smoking a cigarette. But things used to be harsher than we even realize back when society truly demonized cannabis. It was not only the smokers that had to worry about criminal charges, but also the journalists that covered such a turbulent topic. 

The Daily Emerald wasn’t always independent from the university, and campus officials and the authorities hounded one such journalist named Annette Buchanan. After being named managing editor of the Oregon Daily Emerald in May of 1966, Annette wrote an article titled, “Students Condone Marijuana Use.” The ensuing legal battle and repercussions would not be forgotten by the State of Oregon, the University of Oregon or the future of journalism itself.

In the article,tudents under pseudo names vented their frustrations surrounding the views and misconceptions that the general public held about marijuana at the time. 

“Pot is not like alcohol,” explained Bill, one of the seven students Annette interviewed. “You have complete control. You don’t lose yourself.”

“Who does the middle class or the government think it is that they can tell people what to do?” asked Joe.

The students expressed their distaste about myths similar to those we’ve also heard in more recent years. They complained about how society blamed marijuana for leading to harder drugs, like heroin. However, the students knew that it wasn’t the plant itself that caused its association with hard drugs and crime. It was the fact that it was illegal and therefore only dealt with by the black market. If something isn’t regulated or following a set of standards, it’s bound to be surrounded by shady components. 

The students had excellent points about how using marijuana helped “enrich their (intellectual) experience.” They argued that it could even benefit an alcoholic or otherwise heavy drinker to cut down on their drinking and possibly help them switch to simply smoking pot occasionally. They even recognized that being sentenced to jail time for using or possessing cannabis was not a deterrent but a way for society to destroy a college student’s career before it even began. The students could not have known how significant their anonymous accounts would come to be. 

It is essential to explain why such an article was published by Buchanan, who herself did not consume cannabis. On Sunday, May 22, students in the lobby of the Student Union voiced questions regarding why the Emerald featured so many seemingly anti-marijuana stories. Buchanan assured them that the Emerald was not purposely trying to condemn them or send such a message. She promised to find out what she could do to alleviate their concerns. The news should be able to present the views and opinions of every one of its readers, after all.  

While proofreading an editorial page endorsing Charles O. Porter over residing Lane County District Attorney William Frye, Emerald Editor Phil Semas suggested Buchanan interview UO students about marijuana. On election day, May 24, “Students Condone Marijuana Use” was published in the Emerald.

Too strange a coincidence was it that a week later, on June 1, District Attorney Frye issued subpoenas for Buchanan, Semas, former Emerald Editor Chuck Begs and former Managing Editor Bob Carl. Two days later, all four appeared at the Lane County Courthouse with Attorney Arthur Johnson. The Grand Jury observed as Buchanan was grilled by Frye first, who immediately demanded the names of the seven students featured in her article. Buchanan refused.

Buchanan explained her decision to the Grand Jury citing five reasons: First, as a journalist, Buchanan could not, and would not, breach the code of ethics of her major and profession. Second, to do so would be violating the constitutions of both Federal and State levels, which guaranteed freedom of the press. Third, as a State of Oregon employee, the knowledge was privileged communication. Fourth, the demand was outside the appropriate scope of the Grand Jury. And finally, Buchanan was not afforded legal counsel during the hearing. Frye was more than unhappy and tried to twist the information out of Buchanan by comparing withholding the identities of the cannabis-smoking students in her article to that of rapists and murderers.

Twice before the Grand Jury, Buchanan protected the seven students’ identities, which resulted in her being held in contempt of court and fined $300. This was mainly because Oregon did not yet have a shield law, a statute that protects journalists’ right to refuse to disclose or identify their sources. Publisher of the Oakland Tribune and former Republican Senator William Knowland offered to pay Buchanan’s fine. Frye was the first District Attorney of Lane County to make a name for themself by prosecuting drunk drivers. It makes sense Frye would go after cannabis, especially when the article was on the front page. 

On Dec. 4, 1967, Attorney Johnson filed an appeal through the Supreme Court of Oregon. Unfortunately, the verdict of being held in contempt of court was upheld. “The courts have held the rights of privacy, freedom of association, and ethical convictions are subordinate to the duty of every citizen to testify in court,” states the official State vs. Buchanan court document. Nevertheless, by April 1973, the Oregon House passed Senate Bill 206, ensuring Oregon journalists’ right to protect the identity of their confidential sources. 

Next time we light one up, let’s remember Annette Buchanan, a courageous and honorable journalist. While she was only taking the advice of Emerald Editor Semas by trying to give students their own voice to discuss marijuana use, Buchanan made a name for herself by following through with the promises she made as a journalist and protecting those sources. At the young age of 20, even in the face of so many threats, from the courts and anti-cannabis individuals, she firmly held her ground. She inadvertently helped Oregon enact its shield law, preventing other journalists from going through similar nerve-wracking experiences. She was a copy editor for the Oregonian for years 1975 to 1997 and even operated a farm with her husband, Michael Conard, near Sandy, Oregon. Buchanan lived to be 67-years-old, leaving behind a shining legacy for all journalists to aspire to.

“She felt bound by her conscience, her pledge and her word.” – Attorney Arthur Johnson, The Oregonian, June 29 1996. 

‘Magic Mushrooms’ and drug decriminalization join forces to reconstruct Oregon justice system

words by Kaylynn Wohl, IG @kdizzler

Oregon is the first state to approve the legalization of ‘magic mushrooms’ while also decriminalizing personal possession of all other drugs. Measure 109 allows the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to lead programs by licensed providers to conduct therapy that uses psilocybin-producing mushrooms. Measure 110 decriminalizes previously illegal substances, such as small possessions of heroin, meth, cocaine. By reallocating portions of the state’s cannabis tax revenue, mental health resources are to expand while repositioning the narrative around drug addiction and supporting Oregonians who struggle with substance use disorder. 

Measure 109 does not allow at home manufacturing, consumption or distribution of psilocybin. In therapy sessions, it can treat depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction and other mental health disorders. Unlike pharmaceuticals which are taken daily with an array of side effects, psilocybin provides “breakthrough therapy” with plant based solutions. 

Drugs including fentanyl, cocaine, heroin, and all others are still illegal to possess, distribute and manufacture. The change lies within Oregonians no longer being jailed for small possessions; instead, they could be cited or fined up to $100, rather than “the existing misdemeanor of one year in prison and a $6,250 fine.” A person can avoid the fine by participating in a health assessment. Large possession amounts and trafficking still remains a criminal offense.

About 58 percent of voters were in favor of Measure 110. This progressive change in legislature addresses a major problem that about one in ten Oregonians struggle with, according to a report released by the Oregon Substance Abuse Disorder Research Committee. About $6 billion is spent annually on addiction through funding policing, jailing and healthcare. Measure 110 mandates expansion of treatment facilities through widening resources partly funded through the state’s cannabis tax revenue. Afterall, jail and prison are not rehabilitation resources.

“My main concern for 110 is really how much it is pulling away from schools and mental health treatment,” said Alexandra Arnett, another staff writer for Green Eugene. “I think it’s unwise to divert funds from either as education and mental health really go hand in hand with steering away from addictions.”

The remaining 42 percent of voters in opposition of Proposition 110 worry about what this means for Oregon schools, which receive about 40 percent of the revenue generated. 

Measure 110 will directly affect people of color within the local criminal justice system. Black people are statistically and systemically more likely to be arrested for drug related offenses, and Measure 110 could benefit racial minorities who are disproportionately affected by the war on drugs. 

Discrimination is always present in the U.S. legal system, particularly within policing. Measure 110 reallocates portions of the police fund into the Drug Treatment and Recovery Services Fund and Addiction Recovery Centers (ARCs), which will offer 24 hour access to care every day of the year starting October 1, 2021.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, “Nearly 80 percent of people in federal prison and almost 60 percent of people in state prison for drug offenses are black or Latino.” Decriminalizing drug possession could reproportion the representation of arrests and incarceration of people of color. More people will have access to treatment “when law enforcement resources are appropriately redirected to programs that help build healthier communities.”

It is estimated by the Oregon Criminal Justice Commision that Measure 110 will show a decline in over representation of convictions of racial minorities as compared to whites. Specifically, it’s estimated to show a 93.7 percent decline in Black convictions, 82.9 percent for Asians, 94.2 percent for Native Americans and 86.5 percent for Hispanics. 

Measures 109 and 110 join together to reposition the state’s participation in the war on drugs as Oregon continues to prioritize recovery for those who struggle with mental health. 

Is the MORE Act really ‘more’?

written by Alexandra Arnett @calyx.alex

Much of the cannabis community was elated to hear that the House of Representatives passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. I would like to preface this article by stating that the passing of the MORE Act by the House is indeed a momentous victory for the cannabis industry. The Senate, although not likely to pass it, have until the end of 2020 to vote on this legislation. However, the MORE Act is not without some major flaws that could do harm to the industry. In the days following the passage of the MORE Act, many cannabis and social justice advocates began speaking out about the changes that were made to the legislation before it passed the House. Throughout this brief article, I will highlight some of the positives as well as detail some of the flaws within this legislation.

One of the major things about this legislation, if it were to pass, is that it would completely remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). This specific amendment to the CSA would be a game-changer for those who are currently conducting or who want to conduct cannabis research. In addition to the removal of cannabis from the CSA, the MORE Act ensures no person will be denied federal public benefits due to cannabis use or past convictions. The protection also extends to immigrants who may use cannabis or have cannabis convictions. The MORE Act also effectively changes how legislation refers to the plant, instead of “marihuana” the term “cannabis” would be used. Another positive aspect of the MORE Act would be the ability of cannabis businesses to work with banks and obtain business loans.

The biggest flaw in this legislation has three parts. The first is that you must be issued a federal permit to run a cannabis business, which can still be denied if the person is or has been involved in violations of federal or state laws related to cannabis. There are no provisions in the bill stating that those with permits issued in legal cannabis states will be automatically accepted. This means a higher cost to business owners who are starting out and another hurdle to jump through for those already running a state legal cannabis business. You can read the particular section here (Sec. 5923 (e)). The second is a particular section regarding the distribution of the Community Reinvestment Grant Program funds. Prior to being passed in the House, the text had a 7th provision in Sec. 3052 (a), which states where the funds must be allocated to help individuals harmed by the War on Drugs. This 7th provision stated, “services to address any collateral consequences that individuals or communities face as a result of the War on Drugs.” The Community Reinvestment Grant Program still provides help for those harmed via job training, reentry services, legal aid, literacy programs, youth programs, and health education programs. However, the War on Drugs systemically harmed many individuals and their communities in more ways than that. It’s also important to note that from the Opportunity Trust Fund, the Attorney General gets 60% while the Community Reinvestment Grant Program gets 40%.

The third major flaw is that the MORE Act does not exactly call for automatic expungements for cannabis crimes as soon as the bill passes. It allows them one year from the date of enactment to order expungements for those convicted in cannabis crimes. You can read this particular section here. While it does allow for those convicted of crimes to petition the court themselves after its enactment, this puts an undue burden on people who may not have the resources to do so. Those currently incarcerated for cannabis crimes still have to go through a sentencing review hearing before they are released. In addition, only non-violent cannabis crimes will be eligible for expungements and sentencing hearings. Now, we are not saying violent crime isn’t a bad thing, but we know all too well how the criminal justice system treats minorities. This is especially true when it comes to drug crimes. 

Now, we must also consider the financial impact on businesses and consumers if the MORE Act were to pass the Senate and be signed into law. With the current legislation as written, there would be an annual tax on cannabis businesses of $1,000 and an initial 5% federal tax on cannabis products to consumers that is set to increase to 8% within 5 years. In states like Oregon, California, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Washington, this can bring the total taxes in these states to anywhere between 30% and 50%. Washington cannabis taxes are currently 37%, by adding an 8% federal tax within 5 years, this would mean consumers would be paying 45% in taxes alone. This puts an undue burden on the working class and makes it unattainable for some who need it the most, such as people on disability with limited income. On top of taxes for the product itself and the annual business tax, there is another tax on the packaging used for the product. This specific tax can also be left up to the discretion of the Secretary. On another note, testing of cannabis can still be required for federal employees.

If you’re interested in keeping up with what’s going on in the fine print, Nina Parks is a great activist and cannabis entrepreneur to follow. Her Instagram and business pages can be found here: @nina_parks, @equitytradecertification.