Oh, yeah, I was ready for a slugfest of a debate when Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer and Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis got ready to settle into their respective corners -- well, seats -- at today's Salem City Club debate about Measure 91, which would legalize recreational marijuana if passed this November.
After all, Blumenauer has called for a federal investigation "to determine if federal taxpayer dollars are being used illegally to influence a statewide election." Marquis is mentioned in the Blumenauer complaint letter.
(Russ Belville has made public record requests to learn if Marquis and other public officials have been trying to influence voters inappropriately by using taxpayer funds. Belville is seeking donations to support that effort.)
But it wasn't much of a fight, mostly because there aren't many good reasons to oppose marijuana legalization. I give Marquis credit for not raising spurious ones along "Reefer Madness" lines. Marquis also was pleasantly spontaneous and humorous.
As reported in a Statesman Journal story, Marquis got the best laugh of the debate.
Download Marijuana legalization takes center stage in Salem
""It's called weed for a reason," Marquis said. "It's not like brewing your own whiskey. It's not that hard to make."
He suspects that even his wife, who supports marijuana legalization, could grow "some awesome weed" in their greenhouse.
Otherwise, though, Blumenauer kicked butt on the Salem City Club podium. He started off the debate by using his opening statement to argue why Measure 91 makes so much sense.
Including: Lots of Oregonians are using marijuana. Keeping it illegal supports drug cartels. Nationally, minorities caught with pot are singled out by the legal system for harsher penalties. Criminalizing a substance much less harmful than alcohol and tobacco fosters disrespect for the law.
I was curious to see how Marquis would respond.
Rather strangely, he started off by touting Oregon's 1973 law which decriminalized cannabis, first law in the nation. Then Marquis described how possession of less than an ounce just gets a citation supposedly akin to a traffic ticket, and how mostly only big-time drug sellers are sent to prison in Oregon.
This theme carried on throughout the debate. Blumenauer and Marquis often seemed to be on the same side, which didn't help Marquis much in his anti-Measure 91 arguments.
They both agreed that marijuana is widely used by Oregonians; that it is easily available; that it is considerably less addictive than alcohol and tobacco; that most users are unlikely to get in trouble with law enforcement; that Measure 91 is likely to pass; that minors shouldn't be using it; that prescription drug abuse is a larger health problem; that marijuana shouldn't be federally classified as a "most dangerous" Schedule 1 drug; that there is no coherent national drug policy strategy.
In essence, Marquis' core theme was that marijuana already is close-to-legal, so why legalize it? Blumenauer made more sense: since marijuana is close-to-legal, let's take the next step and legalize it.
Marquis is afraid that legalizing marijuana will make it more accessible to minors. Blumenauer responded by asking whether a 13 year old girl has more trouble getting a joint or a bottle of booze. In other words, marijuana already is easily obtained by youth who want it.
Legalization, Blumenauer argued, should make marijuana less available to minors by drying up the black market. Liquor, a substance that is regulated and taxed in Oregon, isn't commonly sold on street corners. Marijuana is, because that's the only way most people can get it.
Blumenauer estimated that taxes on legal recreational marijuana could bring in somewhere between $16 million to $30 million or so a year, if I recall correctly. Marquis wondered if this would be the case, since Measure 91 allows citizens (such as Marquis' wife) to grow four plants of their own.
When he said that, I muttered to the guy sitting next to me, "We don't have a garden; I buy stuff at the store; same would be true with marijuana." Likewise, Blumenauer said that most people don't grow their own tomatoes, so why would they grow their own marijuana?
Only Salem City Club members got to ask questions. I was fortunate to be handed the microphone for the last one.
I said something like, "Since most Oregonians live close enough to Washington to be able to drive there easily, and Washington has legalized marijuana, why should that state be collecting taxes from Oregonians rather than Oregon?"
Marquis noted that if Oregon legalizes marijuana, we'd enjoy some Pot Tourism of our own from Idaho and California. Again, not so much an argument against Measure 91, as in favor of it. Blumenauer agreed that Oregon should be collecting marijuana taxes, not Washington.
[Update: Peter Wong has a good summary of the debate in the Portland Tribune.]
I guess my overall take on the debate echoes that of marijuana activist Russ Belville. Here's what he tweeted after the event.
Another tweet contained some good news for current grow-your-own'ers.
Jennifer asked Marquis where she should get her decrim pot, he told her to grow it! She: commit a felony? He: we don't really go after that.