After attending last night's Listening Tour meeting in West Salem of the OLCC (Oregon Liquor Control Commission), which is charged with implementing legal recreational marijuana in this state, I came away with a very strong feeling that, yes indeed, the times really are a'changing when it comes to pot.
Several hundred people attended the meeting. I got there fifteen minutes early, and the area set aside for seating was already filled up. Sliding partitions had to be opened up to accommodate the larger-than-expected crowd.
There was an interesting mix of folks who had come to express their views about how the provisions of Measure 91, the marijuana legalization initiative that passed with 56% of the vote last November, should be implemented by the OLCC.
As I walked to the building from the parking lot, I encountered a guy who was talking to anybody within earshot about how many children died, if I recall correctly, from alcohol poisoning last year. Thirty-six, I believe it was.
Then he said, "And how many died from a marijuana overdose?" I knew the answer! "Zero," I told him. "Right!" he approvingly said to me.
This set the tone for the two-hour meeting.
I sort of expected that there would be some anti-marijuana types there who wanted to urge tight control over the Demon Weed. Well, if this was the case, they kept their mouths shut. Everybody who spoke from the audience was in favor of legal weed. The only debate was how to go about it.
The chair of the OLCC, Rob Patridge, kicked off the meeting with a slide show about the provisions of Measure 91. He readily admitted that he had opposed its passage, but now was committed to making marijuana legalization work.
He sounded sincere.
Still, the Oregon Legislature is in session, and several bills have been introduced that would undermine Measure 91. Governor Kitzhaber, irritatingly, is pushing for changes even before this state has gotten to see how well the carefully written and researched citizen initiative will work.
Patridge repeatedly said that the meeting wasn't about re-litigating Measure 91. Unless the legislature changes the statutory provisions of Measure 91, the OLCC has to work within its boundaries.
Two other OLCC commissioners attended the meeting, Marvin D. Révoal and Michael Harper (I didn't recall this at the time, but his bio says that Harper played for the Portland Trailblazers in the early 1980s). Révoal was outgoing and outspoken, uttering some crowd-pleasing lines about legal weed early on:
"This is our Silicon Valley! This could be our Napa Valley!"
I believe it. There were plenty of well-dressed men and women in the audience who looked more like marijuana entrepreneurs than typical legal pot advocates (assuming there is such a thing, "typical").
Indeed, a concern expressed by several people was that big-moneyed out-of-state corporate types would come to Oregon and try to dominate the production and sale of marijuana. Clearly most in the room agreed with them, wanting the marijuana industry in this state to be much more akin to craft beer than Budweiser.
Smartly, the OLCC has hired a professional facilitator to oversee the audience participation portion of these Listening Tour meetings. Salem's was the third, the first two being in eastern Oregon.
She did a great job. This was the best organized meeting of this sort I've ever been to.
At a welcome table, attendees were given small round stickers that they could afix next to a variety of topics listed on easel boards inside the meeting room. The topics that got the most stickers were brought up first during the audience participation session that took up most of the two hours.
Each person was given green, yellow, and red cards.
These were held up to indicate agreement, uncertainty, or disagreement about a statement regarding how to implement Measure 91. The moderator would look around the room, say something like "Most people agree with this," then ask various people to explain their "vote."
Great way to run the meeting. The OLCC commissioners would chime in from time to time with questions and comments of their own, but mostly the moderator served as the neutral person trying to gauge the tenor of the audience on key issues.
The most unanimous vote was on the need for testing of marijuana products, particularly for purity. I don't think anybody disagreed that this needed to be done. (It already is, I'm pretty sure, for medical marijuana.)
Clapping occasionally burst out when holding up a colored card wasn't enough for the audience to register approval or disapproval of some statement. As already noted, "Don't allow out-of-staters with huge grows" got considerable applause.
As did, "Don't let local governments set grow limits."
During the concluding open mic comment period, this advice by someone to the OLCC was received warmly: "Don't think of ways to restrict; think of ways to benefit Oregon."
Something I said got considerable applause also. I held a red card up to a statement about requiring retail marijuana outlets to be located at least 1000 feet from schools. This question got a mixture of Yes, Not Sure, and No responses.
Being a "No," the moderator pointed at me and said, "Tell us why you feel this way." I said, best I recall:
I just haven't seen any compelling reasons why retail stores shouldn't be near schools. My daughter, who is 43, now admits to me that when she was in elementary school, she stopped by a 7-11 on her way home to buy candy. Beer and wine were sold in that store! Somehow she survived. This seems to me to be part of a Demon Weed mentality that doesn't make any sense -- the idea that marijuana is some sort of Death Ray that can zap children if they get within 1000 feet of it.
That Death Ray thought just popped into my head as I was talking. It got laughs and applause.
The next audience member called on by the moderator looked at me and said, "I agree with that guy." But then went on to explain that his worry is about the smell of marijuana emanating from a store and entering children's noses as they walk by.
OK. However, I've walked by several medical marijuana dispensaries and never smelled anything. Plus, it isn't true that you can get high by just smelling marijuana. Unfortunately.
A story in today's Statesman Journal has more details about the Listening Tour meeting.
Download Salem pot meeting: Less regulation is more, hundreds say
One of the OLCC chairman's slides struck me intensely when it popped onto the screen at the end of his opening presentation. This is where you go to learn how Oregon state government is implementing the legalization of recreational marijuana in this state.
My feelings, in part, related to a previous blog post of mine, "Oregonians, please legalize marijuana to honor... ME!" Here's how the post started off:
Hey, so maybe the title of this blog post sounds self-centered to you. What do you expect, dude? The author, moi, is a 65 year-old baby boomer. I'm proudly part of the Me Generation.
So naturally I see everything as revolving around the Flower Child center of the universe that we baby boomers brought into being back in the 60's.
Me especially, since I was in college at San Jose State University from 1966 to 1971.
You know, the Bay Area not-Stanford and not-UC Berkeley. The ugly duckling to the south. Which for me and my friends was just a short 57' VW bug smoke-filled drive away from San Francisco: Haight-Ashbury, Winterland, Fillmore, all things psychedelically bright and beautiful.
We weren't smoking cigarettes.
Oh no, we were the freaks, the hippies, the potheads, the stoners, who brought marijuana out of the societal shadows and made it, if not respectable, damn ubiquitous for our generation.
In a sense -- and I can understand if you'd like to make that "In a pitifully marginal sense" -- we were akin to the courageous demonstrators of the Civil Rights movement, the determined feminists of the Women's Rights movement, the brave initiators of the Gay Rights movement, the in-your-face protestors of the Anti-Vietnam War movement.
We set out to change society one toke at a time.
Whether zoning out to Cream, Jefferson Airplane, and Hendrix, or demonstrating that frisbee skills are not lessened one bit by being high (nor driving skills, in my experience), we were unknowingly laying the groundwork for what now seems to be a groundswell of support for changing this nation's marijuana laws.
And now it's happening. Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon. Bit by bit, these United States are looking upon marijuana in a way that seemed impossible back in the 1960's.
Rationally. Non-fearfully. Scientifically. The meeting last night brought this home in a way that I hadn't felt before I sat with hundreds of other people to talk about legal marijuana.