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Eugene Weekly : News : 10.28.10

Will Medical Pot Inspire?

Poll shows younger voters perked up by M74

By Ted Taylor

One measure on the statewide ballot this election appears to be inspiring some voters who might otherwise skip this election out of protest over poor choices or simple apathy. 

A mid-October survey of “unlikely” voters shows more enthusiasm when the voters hear about Measure 74, the attempt to make medical marijuana more available through licensed growers and nonprofit dispensaries.

Numerous political pundits nationally and statewide in recent weeks have predicted that close elections will be determined by who votes and who doesn’t vote. And since younger voters tend to be more progressive, a larger turnout of younger voters would favor Democrats.

“These data are clear: If you want younger voters to turn out this year, rally them around Measure 74,” said Bob Wolfe, spokesman for the Yes on 74 Campaign. “Measure 74 is far more interesting than anything else on the ballot for these voters. When they learn more, many are eager to cast their votes for it.” 

The survey, sponsored by the Yes on 74 campaign, is unusual in that it focused not on likely voters but rather on 400 voters age 40 and under who said their “enthusiasm” about the election ranged from 1-5 on a 10-point scale. One-third of them become more likely voters when they heard a measure to allow licensed medical marijuana dispensaries was on the ballot.

Opposition to Measure 74 is also growing as the election nears. The Oregonian and The Register-Guard have called for “no” votes on the measure, and most police chiefs, district attorneys and county sheriffs have come out against it. A few organizations are also campaigning against it, such as Save Our Society From Drugs and the Oregon Partnership. Other groups are actively supporting it, such as Mothers Against Misuse and Abuse.

John Sajo of Voter Power wrote most of the measure’s language and counters the often-repeated argument that Measure 74 is poorly crafted and does not learn from other states’ experiments. “We looked at all the models to see what works and doesn’t work,” he said. “Fourteen states have medical marijuana laws, and most are moving to dispensaries.”

Is Measure 74 really needed? Cheryl Smith, executive director of the Compassion Center, a nonprofit medical marijuana advocacy and education organization in Eugene, said she receives phone calls “every week from patients who are qualified to use medical marijuana but are unable to obtain it. Sadly, the patients who call are usually the most ill, do not use marijuana recreationally (and consequently don’t even have access to the black market) and in many cases are homebound. These are the patients for whom this law was written.”

Smith said more than a dozen illegal dispensaries are already operating in Oregon. “They are popping up all over the state. That’s the real free-for-all. and we are in the midst of it. These dispensaries are selling marijuana under the guise of ‘donations’ or ‘reimbursements,’ claiming that they are operating in a gray area of the current law.”

“We need to stop this underground growth of unregulated dispensaries before we really do become another California,” she said, “with dispensaries on every street corner, operating with no oversight.”

Sajo said lax regulations in California have enabled any adult to get a medical marijuana card, and he claimed that even gangs can set up marijuana storefronts. “We need clear-cut rules for this to work,” he said. The measure would require background checks, record-keeping, auditing, zoning compliance and other restrictions on dispensaries.

Getting a medical marijuana card in Oregon is not a slam dunk, he said, citing the experience of one of his relatives who went to four different clinics seeking a card and was denied at all four.  

Sajo says medical marijuana is also a civil rights issue. “There’s a lot of discrimination against pot smokers,” he said, and he hopes this measure will help legitimize medical marijuana. He described a low-income Oregon man in a wheelchair who’s been threatened with eviction from his apartment because neighbors have complained to his landlord about his medical marijuana use. He could end up homeless because of his choice of medicine.

Sajo also praised the in-depth work of the Citizen Initiative Review whose members heard hours of testimony and examined dozens of documents before voting 13-11 to support the measure.

More information about Measure 74 can be found in the Voter’s Pamphlet and at http://measure74.com