Education essential for Oregon’s new pot laws

Written by Jessica Else for The Argus Observer. Published on June 28, 2015.

In just a few days, anyone over the age of 21 can smoke pot in Ontario without getting thrown in jail by the long arm of the law.

While some are hailing the July 1 legalization of recreational marijuana in Oregon as the end of a prohibition era, local law enforcement officers are asking people to slow their roll and learn the rules before lighting up that celebratory joint.

“This isn’t where you can just walk down the sidewalk and smoke your joints,” Oregon State Police Lt. Mark Duncan said. “Education is going to be key for Oregon’s success in this. We have to educate the public on what’s legal and what’s not.”

Learning the laws

It isn’t just the public that needs a few lessons on pot; law enforcement officers have been brushing up on the new rules as well. According to Duncan, the future is going to require a different mindset.

“The biggest change is we’ll be working more on impairment and not possession,” Duncan said. “We need to train law enforcement to know what is enforceable and what’s not.”

In order to make sure everyone is on the same page, area law enforcement officers are holding a training July 13 in Ontario with an attorney from the Oregon Department of Justice and drug recognition experts.

“The [Malheur County] Sheriff’s Office is helping sponsor that,” Ontario Police Chief Mark Alexander said.

In addition to the training, Alexander said he has been compiling a list of laws and scenarios his officers will be encountering.

“So far, we’ve put together a summary of all the applicable laws and have distributed that to the officers in preparation for recreational marijuana being legalized,” Alexander said. “They’re not making it very easy for us. It gets complicated.”

If you are under 21

Consuming or possessing any kind of recreational marijuana products if you are under the age of 21 is illegal, just like alcohol, except there are different degrees to the offense.

Possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, if you’re under 21, is a violation that comes with a maximum fine of $650. Possession of more than 1 ounce, but less than 4 ounces is a Class B misdemeanor, and having 4 ounces or more is a Class C felony.

“That’s just the plant,” Alexander said. “Then there’s marijuana product, which means products that contain marijuana extracts or oils and are intended for consumption.”

An example of a marijuana product would be pot brownies or oil-infused candies.

For those who are under 21, possession of less than a quarter ounce of marijuana product is a Class B misdemeanor, and a quarter ounce or more is a Class C felony.

Providing any form of marijuana to minors is also against the law, just like it is with alcohol.

The only exception to that rule is medical marijuana. Doctors can prescribe marijuana and marijuana oils medicinally for children to treat certain conditions.

Driving

Though you’ll be able to consume as much marijuana as you want beginning July 1, driving under the influence of any kind of intoxicants is still illegal.

When an officer is on patrol and he sees someone driving erratically, he’ll pull that person over. If he has a reason to suspect the driver is impaired by anything, the officer will put the driver through a series of balance and coordination tests, the same tests that are used for alcohol. Part of that process is a breathalyzer test.

“If they blow 0.00, or less than 0.08, we’ll go into Section 2 of implied consent, which asks for urine and a drug evaluation to be administered,” Duncan said.

Those evaluations take place at the jail, and sometimes it can take up to an hour before an evaluator can get there. That’s because there are only three officers trained to do drug evaluations, including Duncan, who is certified to teach drug recognition classes.

Evaluators are trained to link certain signs to certain drugs. For marijuana, evaluators look for things such as eyelid tremors, elevated blood pressure, lack of balance and dilated pupils.

“There’s a lot of different characteristics for marijuana,” Duncan said.

In addition to an evaluation, the driver will be asked to provide urine or blood that will be sent to a forensics lab in Salem. Typically it takes between 30 and 45 days for local law enforcement to see the results of that test.

Duncan said the information on the arrest goes to the District Attorney’s Office, which actually hands down charges, in two separate reports. The first report is the DUII report. The second report details what substances the driver was on, according to the drug evaluator.

Exporting and importing

Alexander said law enforcement in Malheur and Payette counties plan on working together to stop any transport of marijuana across state lines.

“We know people are going to attempt to take that into Idaho,” Alexander said. “We’ve made a commitment to work collectively together to enforce these marijuana laws.”

Alexander said the legalization of marijuana is going to have an effect on both sides of the river, and “as much as they don’t want the problems, we don’t want them to have the problems from a new law that’s been brought about in Oregon.”

“If we know they’re entering Idaho in violation of marijuana laws, we will let [Idaho law enforcement] know, and they’ve told us they want to know,” Alexander said.

What’s legal

If you are over the age of 21, you’ll be able to consume marijuana and marijuana products legally, in Oregon, as long as you do it privately. The best rule of thumb is to stay on private property and out of the view of the public.

“You can’t consume it in public, so that means any place where the general public has access,” Alexander said. “That’s a Class B violation and has a maximum fine of $260.”

Parks, schools, sidewalks and apartment hallways are examples of public places.

People will be able to have a maximum of 8 ounces of usable marijuana, which means the dried flowers, or buds, in their residences. They can have up to an ounce of usable marijuana on their person when they are walking about town.

People can also have up to four marijuana plants growing at home, but they have to be out of the view of the general public.

Gray areas

Front yards and back porches are not considered public places. They are private property, but many times those areas can be seen by the general public from the road or from alleys.

“That’s a gray area, because if you’re on private property, the way it’s worded, it’s like drinking a beer,” Duncan said. “I find it interesting that they’re saying you have to have your four plants growing out of public view, but they’re not saying that it has to be out of public view when consuming.”

Other sections of the new rules, however, say marijuana can’t be consumed within public view, Duncan said, so that would mean that it can’t be consumed on your front lawn if someone walking down the street could see you.

The other area that is currently open to interpretation is what constitutes impairment.

If your blood-alcohol level is higher than 0.08, you’re legally drunk, but a legal limit hasn’t yet been set for marijuana.

“That’s one of the controversial issues,” Duncan said. “There’s been a lot of studies on alcohol, and those kinds of studies are being done on marijuana right now.”

In order to test positive for marijuana, a person has to have a certain amount of nanograms of tetrahydrocannabinol —THC — in his urine, but it hasn’t been established how much THC in the body constitutes impairment.

The other problem is that THC can be found in urine up to 30 days after an individual has consumed marijuana, but a person will not be under the influence of marijuana 30 days after they smoke it.

“We want you using it privately, we want you not driving, we want you not transporting it in or out of the state,” Duncan said. “You can share, but you can’t buy or sell, and you can’t give it to kids. We want you to be responsible.”

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