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Hundreds Imprisoned for Marijuana in Oregon Ignored

Russ Belville

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As Josh Marquis continues campaigning against marijuana legalization in Oregon under Measure 91, he repeats certain talking points that could be charitably called “true” if one doesn’t read between the lines.  Today’s example is the notion that we really don’t need to legalize marijuana because hardly anybody really goes to prison for it.  The Bend Bulletin reports  on Marquis’ remarks at the recent Measure 91 debate between him and Rep. Earl Blumenauer:

But he said the argument that Oregon’s prisons are clogged with marijuana users and the notion that the state pays more for prisons than education is “simply not true.”

Records from the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission last month showed just five people are in prison in Oregon for possession of marijuana. In total, 130 people are in prison for marijuana-related crimes with an average sentence of about two years, the records showed.

This is true, as far as it goes – five people for marijuana possession, 130 for growing, trafficking, and selling marijuana. But what Marquis and others like him are purposefully omitting is that marijuana can land you in jail or prison without it ever being acknowledged in the criminal justice statistics. And that’s something that a county district attorney certainly is aware of.

For instance, simple possession of marijuana becomes a crime of “distribution” if you are sharing it with your friends. Simple possession of too much marijuana automatically qualifies for “possession for sale” charges. Possess that marijuana in separate baggies or own a kitchen or postage scale and you’ll get “intent to deliver” charges tacked on. So those five people in prison for possession are the few who managed to avoid being lumped in with the other 130, many of whom may also have been simply possessing.

Then there are the charges for possession that earn you a trip to prison for another non-marijuana crime entirely. If you’re on probation or parole and get caught with marijuana or a dirty urine screen, you’re returned to prison on your original charges, not the fact you got caught with weed. If you possessed marijuana in your car, that can lead to a driving under the influence conviction. If you are a parent, you can be charged with child endangerment, abuse, or neglect.  If you used a cell phone or text message or email to get your marijuana, that’s illegal use of communications device.  If you lawfully own a firearm for sport or protection, you can be charged with using a firearm in the commission of the crime.

When confronted with these facts, prohibitionists will often defend by saying that the person serving time for marijuana possession often pleaded down from other, more serious crimes. Sometimes, those more serious crimes are the manufacture and sales of marijuana. Other times, they may have committed a serious crime, which leads one to wonder why a district attorney didn’t prosecute them for that? Do they really wish to keep marijuana a crime simply to be able to punish people they couldn’t convict of more serious crimes?

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