NewsBriefs BUTTONS

Oregon Recriminalizes Possession of Small Amounts of Marijuana


August 1997

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber (D) signed legislation (HB 3643) on July 2 that recriminalizes possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. The legislation takes effect on October 4 ("Signing of House Bill 3643, Recriminalizing Marijuana," Statement of Governor John Kitzhaber, July 3, 1997).

The bill increases the penalty for possessing less than one ounce of marijuana from a non-criminal "violation" to a class C misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of 30 days in jail, a $1,000 fine, and loss of their drivers' licenses for six months. The law also extends the state's forfeiture laws. "Technically, they can take your home for less than an ounce of pot," said state Senator Bill Dwyer (D-Springfield) who opposed the legislation. But according to Oregon State Police Lieutenant Gregg Hastings, authorities are not looking to abuse the new law. "People have to trust the police officer that work in this state," said Hastings. "It's an unwarranted fear that we would be pursing forfeiture." (Associated Press, "New marijuana law aids police," Oregonian, August 12, 1997).

Oregon was the first state to decriminalize marijuana in 1973. States where marijuana decriminalization remains in effect are California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina and Ohio. The penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana in these states is generally a citation and a small fine (News Bulletin, "Oregon Legislature Ends 24 Years of Marijuana Decriminalization," The NORML Foundation, July 3, 1997).

Kitzhaber said he signed the bill "with a good deal of reluctance." He said that "approximately 80% of the cases will continue to be treated as violations," and that the measure "has less to do with the possession of marijuana as it does with expanding the powers of search and seizure." Kitzhaber continued, "The difficult question raised by this legislation ... is the delicate balance between public safety of our society at large and the civil liberties of its individual citizens."

The governor promised to "direct the Criminal Justice Commission to closely monitor how it is being implemented and what effect it is having." If the law "proves to be ineffective -- or if it is used for such purposes as harassment ... then it should be repealed," he said.

Sandee Burbank, a NDSN participant, told NewsBriefs that the Oregon constitution allows citizens to force a referendum of a legislative act and suspend its enforcement until it is voted upon in a general election. Signature gathering for such a referendum has begun, and petitioners have until October 3 to gather 48,841 signatures. The effort was being led by a citizen's group called The Real Joint Ways and Means Committee, led by Jon Zimmer. However, because of disagreements among the citizen's group about the petition effort, a second petition has been filed on HB 3643 by an organization called Oregonians for Sensible Law Enforcement, led by petitioners Todd Olsen and Attorney Mike Rose. Olsen, who is managing the second petition effort, told NewsBriefs that the second petition "is certain to qualify." [The second petition effort, known as the "blue petition," appears to have the support of a vast majority of the original petitioners, and has more financial and personnel resources -- RCT.]

The Real Joint Ways and Means Committee - 14674 SE Sunnyside Road, #116, Clackamas, Oregon 97015, (503) 658-4642,

Oregonians for Sensible Law Enforcement - Todd Olsen, 2915 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Portland, OR 97214, Work tel: (503) 231-9970, Home Tel: (503) 239-0575.