An edit hard to take seriously

The Oregonian is weighing in, after a fashion, on the upcoming pot legalization ballot issue (Measure 80), with not one but two opinion page pieces on Sunday. Both seem extremely determined to miss the point.

The editorial starts, and includes a bit of, the on-the-one-hand kind of approach, acknowledging the arguments for legalization. Then it goes on to this: “But the choice before Oregonians doesn’t involve the expansion of a farcical medical marijuana program into a thoughtfully constructed legalization program. Instead, we’re being asked to swap one farce for another.”

The new farce, it argues, is the board which would regulate cannabis in the state, which under terms of the ballot would first be simply appointed by the governor, then include a majority of members (five of seven) which would come from the pot grower industry.

To be sure, that wouldn’t be a good idea. It also wouldn’t survive long; the legislature could rejigger the numbers and composition, and almost certainly would. The measure also includes a provision saying the new council would be assigned to do promotion of the product – not an unusual task for commodity commissions, but one you’d surely want on a leash. A leash which again, the legislature undoubtedly would provide. (In a case like this, it’s really not much of a stretch of argue that the legislature would act.)

That’s basically the sum of the editorial’s argument against the measure.

Like many ballot issues, Measure 80 includes a section which includes some justification for itself, a series of statements either demonstrably true or at least as arguable as statements on many another ballot issue. With this one, though columnist Susan Nielson takes issue, not by way of disagreeing with the specifics (which might be hard to do) but making argument that sounds just this side of paranoid: “It appears eager to indoctrinate the next generation into thinking of marijuana use as no big deal and cannabis cultivation as downright patriotic.”

Really? Pro-pot indoctrination?

Both articles carefully keep their arguments some distance from the real point of the ballot issue. The reality, as the pot advocates are well aware, is not that changing state law on the subject will immediately change reality on the ground. Marijuana is illegal under federal law, and if the measure passes in November it will remain so. The only real point of the measure is as an expression of opinion, of whether the current regime should stay in place, or some form of legalization should replace it. It’s almost a vast, formalized opinion poll intended to be part of a national shake-up on the subject; that’s why activists in a half-dozen states are trying to do something similar, to make a statement that might (if successful) be large enough to reverberate.

And you can argue legitimately about whether the country should move in that direction. But arguments like those in Sunday’s Oregonian simply miss the point.

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