Marijuana forum helps voters reach educated decisions

Lebanon residents looking for direction on the city’s two ballot measures, which ask whether recreational marijuana should be legally produced and dispensed and taxed in the city, got an education from both sides of the issue at a forum held at the River Center Tuesday, Oct. 25.

Moderated by Circuit Court Judge Tom McHill, the event featured presentations and a little give-and-take by Wyatt King and Brock Binder, representing the pro-legalization view, and Michael Iwai and Mandi Puckett representing the “no” side.

Lebanon residents are being asked to decide on Nov. 8 whether to “prohibit recreational marijuana producers, wholesalers and retailers in Lebanon” in measure 22-147, and in an accompanying measure, whether a 3 percent tax should be imposed “on the sale in Lebanon of marijuana items by a marijuana retailer.”

Shelly Garrett, executive director of the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce, which presented the event, acknowledged to the crowd of 75 attendees that the forum was “kind of unusual for us.”

She said the chamber held the event to help voters reach decisions on the issues, though the organization is not taking a side in the debate.

None of the speakers Tuesday directly advocated for or against the measures. Rather, the discussion was more educational, focusing on the history of marijuana use and control, changes in the drug’s potency over recent decades, the effects of marijuana, its use among minors and more.

King, a local insurance agent and community leader, led off by arguing that outlawing recreational production and distribution would perpetuate an already existing black market and associated “danger to the community.”

He argued that legalization would enable the city better control over production and distribution and would provide tax monies that could go to the Police Department.

“Getting marijuana off the street and into stores is the best way to protect kids in our community,” he said.

He argued that just as alcohol production and consumption went underground and bred a variety of associated illegal activities that cleared up when Prohibition ended in the early 20th century, legalizing marijuana would have similar effects. He and Binder both suggested that legalization of pot would allow local police to focus on more pressing concerns.

King asserted more than once during the evening that a market already exists for cannabis and it makes sense to legalize it so products can be safer, will likely be cheaper and will generate revenue.

“I feel embracing marijuana is the safest thing for the community,” he said. “Get it off the streets and into the stores, where it’s safe.”

Following King, Binder said he got involved in the medicinal marijuana industry while taking care of his mother, who had cancer. He said she was able to end addictive use of alcohol and painkillers after she began using medicinal marijuana.

As a senior at Oregon State University, Binder created an economic feasibility study for marijuana production and was first to procure a medical marijuana dispensary license in Benton County. He was also active in the development of HB 3460, which legalized recreational use of pot in the state in 2013.

Binder discussed the chemistry of the drug and reviewed the history of marijuana use in America and government control of it. He said pot producers today are required to operate within very strict regulations.

“It’s insane,” he said.

He agreed with King that users will seek out a market if they don’t have one locally, noting that Albany residents shop for pot in Corvallis.

Puckett and Iwai played tag-team in presenting reasons to oppose legalization.

Puckett is executive director of Oregon’s CLEAR Alliance (Children Learning through Education And Research), a nonprofit that seeks to prevent and reduce youth substance abuse and impaired driving in Oregon, and a certified prevention specialist with the Addictions Counselor Certification Board of Oregon.

Iwai, an Albany-based patrol lieutenant with the Oregon State Police, served as Oregon’s fourth Drug Evaluation and Classification Program state coordinator from 2008 to 2014 and is a board member of CLEAR, as well as a leader in drug recognition training and a recognized expert witness in court cases involving alcohol and drug impairment.

Puckett, with some input from Iwai, asked the audience a series of questions concerning the use and effects of marijuana to illustrate how little many people know about the drug.

They noted that levels of THC, the chemical that produces the “high” users experience, is much higher in modern plants than a generation ago. They also explained that smoking pot can impact a user in seconds, compared to ingesting it, which may take an hour or two.

Puckett showed a chart depicting different ways cannabis is consumed, besides smoking, including vaping, butane hash oil and other concentrated substances, in candy and other foods, capsules and various delivery devices.

She warned about overdoses, noting that often children will eat candy containing cannabis and fail to experience a high right away.

What do they do?” she asked the audience, who responded, almost en masse: “They eat more.”

Puckett emphasized that although cannabis cultivation and distribution is regulated, the OLCC does not have the staff to properly police it. To illustrate, she cited two recent explosions at plants producing butane hash oil, a concentrated concoction with high THC levels.

The most recent, on Oct. 19 in Astoria, occurred in a legal marijuana processing plant, she noted.

It was licensed, but it hadn’t been inspected,” she said.

Iwai listed some of the effects marijuana can have on drivers: slowed reaction times, forgetting to signal, speeding, weaving and improper turns.

He said OSP has recorded a 163 percent increase in marijuana-impaired driving since the passage of Measure 91 two years ago, which legalized recreational pot.

The bottom line is, if you are impaired, it’s going to be a DUI,” he said.