Letter to the editor: Quit Lying About Recrim

Letters to the Editor
The Oregonian
1320 SW Broadway
Portland, OR 97201

April 30, 1997

To the editor,

The best explanation for the Oregon House's regressive vote to recriminalize marijuana has to do with the failure of media such as The Oregonian to publicize proponents' unchecked campaign of lies.

For example, "Bill would criminalize marijuana once again" (April 30, 1997, p. A1), reports that "In 1973, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Other states followed, but later reversed themselves, leaving Oregon alone in its permissiveness, said Darin Campbell, lobbyist for the Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police."

That is a lie. The extent of police lying during the campaign to recriminalize marijuana has been characteristically ignored by The Oregonian, the biggest liar of them all.

As reported in February by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws [full document and contact info attached]:

"During the 1970s, 11 American states adopted modified versions of marijuana decriminalization, led by Oregon in 1973. ... Only one of these states, Alaska in 1990, has recriminalized marijuana."
The lives and futures of countless innocent people are in your hands. If your willfully ignorant and biased reporters and editors would take a few moments to fact-check such assertions or consistently and equitably solicit comment from both sides on such issues, legislators and the public might begin to understand how stupid, expensive and counterproductive recriminalization would be.

In the same issue, "Three get 10 days in jail in LSD case" shows similar bias by sensationalizing what must be the first or one of the very few accidental deaths associated with LSD use in Oregon's history. Why does The Oregonian not provide similar sensationalistic coverage for each of the dozens of teen deaths in this state every year that are more directly caused by alcohol, especially drunken driving? Are those deaths less tragic or preventable because such victims use a drug sanctioned for adults? What justifies such bias and misleading sensationalism? Or what exactly do you call it?

When will The Oregonian stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution?

Phil Smith
Northeast Portland
for confirmation:
(personal information omitted)

[End of letter]

(Without running any correction, a staff editorial in The Oregonian on May 4, 1997, titled "Not Going To Pot" endorsed recriminalizing marijuana.)



(Posted at http://www.hightimes.com/ht/mag/9702/normliz.html or call NORML at 202-483-5500 to confirm.)

By Paul Armentano

NORML Director of Publications
February 1997

At a time when politicians appear to be champing at the bit in favor of increasing state and federal marijuana penalties as a means to curb adolescent use, NORML would like to spotlight the conclusions of the only federal study ever conducted regarding the impact of marijuana decriminalization on youth.

During the 1970s, 11 American states adopted modified versions of marijuana decriminalization, led by Oregon in 1973. In the majority of these states, possession of limited quantities of marijuana was modified from a criminal offense to a civil violation. Each of these states retained a modest fine, similar to a traffic ticket, but eliminated arrest and jail. Only one of these states, Alaska in 1990, has recriminalized marijuana.

In 1981, the Monitoring the Future project at the University of Michigan released "Occasional Paper 13," entitled Marijuana Decriminalization: The Impact On Youth 1975-1980. The purpose of the study was to "assess the impact of [decriminalization] at the state level on marijuana use by American young people;" the report additionally examined "the impact on their attitudes, beliefs, and peer norms relating to [marijuana] use." To ascertain the findings, Monitoring the Future used data gathered from most of the remaining 39 states that had not decriminalized pot (the control group) and compared them with findings from 10 of the 11 states that had done so. The salient results:

  • The data show "absolutely no evidence [in the decrim states] of any increase, relative to the control states, in the proportion of the age group who ever tried marijuana."

  • "The degree of disapproval young people hold for marijuana use, to the extent which they believe such use is harmful, and the degree to which they perceive the drug to be available to them [was] found to be unaffected."

  • There exists no evidence "of an increase in the frequency of use in the marijuana-using segment of the population. ...In fact, both groups of experimental states showed a small, cumulative net decline in lifetime prevalence, as well as in annual and monthly prevalence, after decriminalization."

    In sum, the Monitoring the Future study concluded:

  • "Overall, the preponderance of the evidence which we have gathered and examined points to the conclusion that decriminalization has had virtually no effect on either marijuana use or on related attitudes about marijuana use among American young people."

    To the prohibitionist community, the conclusion drawn by this report is damaging. Historically, prohibitionists have argued that the number of individuals experimenting with marijuana would dramatically increase if the federal government were to enact decriminalization; and recently, they have tried to blame "mixed messages" regarding marijuana's perceived harmfulness as one of the chief reasons for the purported upsurge in adolescent use. However, the only federal study ever commissioned and conducted to examine this issue flatly refutes both speculations, indicating that neither use rates nor attitudes regarding marijuana have fluctuated because of decriminalization.

    When Dr. Lloyd Johnston of the Monitoring the Future project, one of the three authors of this Impact On Youth report, was asked to comment on the findings of this study at the 1995 National Conference on Marijuana Use, Prevention, Treatment and Research, he pointed out that no followup study has ever been conducted by the government into this issue; one can only assume that this is because the study's findings contradict the very foundation of the federal government's prohibitionist rhetoric.

    When debating the issue of marijuana decriminalization, both proponents and opponents often approach the subject as if its tangible effects on society, including use rates and attitudes, are subject to speculation. Fortunately, this is not the case. In fact, there exist sufficient scientific evidence not just from abroad, but from this country's own experiments with marijuana decriminalization, to demonstrate that criminal sanctions against pot could be repealed without incurring any significant negative effects on American society. The chief hurdle that remains now is getting this information disseminated to as large an audience as possible, and not letting our government conveniently "forget" the critical findings of "Occasional Paper 13."

    To obtain a copy of the summary findings of the Impact On Youth study, call NORML at (202) 483-5500, or write to 1001 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 1010, Washington, DC 20036, or access the NORML Homepage at http://www.norml.org/.

    10 states currently have decriminalized cannabis

    NORML maintains a directory of all the pot laws in the various states at
    http://www.norml.org/laws/stateidx.shtml. The "Notes" section states:


    D = The state has "decriminalized" marijuana to some degree. In general, this means that there is no possible prison time or criminal record for first-time possession of a specified amount for personal consumption. Instead, it is treated like a minor traffic violation.


    The states' information is included on four different pages. A search through each finds these states denoted as having decriminalized pot:

    New York
    North Carolina

    Not Going To Pot

    The Oregonian
    [staff editorial]
    Saturday, May 3, 1997

    After more than two decades of treating it like jaywalking, Oregon lawmakers want to turn up the heat on marijuana use

    The Oregon House of Representatives took exactly the right step in exactly the right direction this week when it recriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana.

    Legislators approved House Bill 3643, which makes possession of less than an ounce of marijuana a class C felony instead of the minor that it has been for the past 24 years. The Senate should quickly approve the bill, and Gov. John Kitzhaber ought to sign it.

    The governor's spokesman was skeptical of the bill because some have predicted that it would increase court costs and create more costs for jailing people arrested and convicted under the law. That's questionable logic - sort of like opposing laws against drunken driving because of the court time the cases take up. Further, it is equally likely that the tougher law could ultimately save the state time and money because of its deterrent effect.

    The law's central feature is a mechanism to allow first-time offenders the option of diversion instead of conviction and possible jail time. This is an approach that works well in other cases - drunken driving, for example - and holds some promise in the effort to reverse some alarming trends in marijuana use.

    The most alarming of these is the increase in marijuana use among eighth and 11th graders that 1996 student surveys discovered. From 1990 to 1996, the percentage of eighth graders who said they had used marijuana in the month before the survey rose from 4.5 percent to 15.3 percent. For 11th graders the percentage rose from 12.9 to 21.7, according to the Regional Drug Initiative.

    If there is not exactly proof that the tougher law will deter use, the evidence does suggest that the reverse is true - more lenient laws promote marijuana use. Dr. Richard Schwartz, professor of pediatrics Georgetown University School of Medicine wrote in 1994 that the states with the most lenient marijuana laws - Oregon and Alaska - also had the highest addiction rates, at double the national average.

    Carol Stone, executive director of the Regional Drug Initiative, argues that tougher laws will, indeed, deter marijuana use. "A lot of the real experts in this are kids in high school and younger," Stone says. "And they say that tougher laws 'send a message to us that it isn't playtime any longer.'"

    "There is no small irony in the fact that the lawmakers from the generation that introduced marijuana to mainstream America are the ones now seeking to turn back the tide their cohorts unleashed. But if you add another piece of information to the mix - that marijuana available today is maybe 60 times as potent as that of the 1960s - there is powerful evidence that the times, they are a-changin'. And that they ought to.

    "Corrections and amplification"

    The Oregonian
    Tuesday, May 6, 1997, p. B8

    Some mistakes require more than a simple correction. So it is with one we made in an editorial that appeared in Saturday's editions of The Oregonian.

    In an editorial about the Oregon House's approval of House Bill 3643, we said the bill made possession of less than an ounce of marijuana a class C felony. Of course, the bill makes it a class C misdemeanor, not a felony.

    Which is why the called-for correction requires an amplification.

    Part of the point worth making on this topic is that decriminalization of marijuana, more than two decades ago, was an overcompensation for the harsh penalties in effect at the time.

    By making possession a misdemeanor with the option of diversion, Oregon would raise the penalty enough to get the attention of first-time offenders without making the penalty a greater threat to their well-being than the marijuana itself.

    (For the best rebuttal of all to The Oregonian's "Not going to pot," see the letter by Dick Cowan, former director of NORML, in Medical Marijuana Magazine.)



    Back to The Oregonian Hall of Shame.

    This URL: http://www.pdxnorml.org/ltte_Recrim_lie_043097.html