Amendment backers shelve effort to ease marijuana enforcement

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A Eugene-based group has dropped its effort to put a charter amendment on
the ballot directing the Lane County sheriff and district attorney to stop
arresting and prosecuting most adult users of marijuana.

A recent poll showed that such an amendment "is clearly not viable at this
time," said Chris Wise of the political action committee Sensible Lane County.

The amendment would have cut off funding for the arrest, prosecution and
jailing of adult marijuana users by the sheriff's office, the district
attorney and the county jail. The amendment would not have applied to
minors, people operating vehicles or commercial growers.

In November, Seattle residents passed a city initiative making the arrest
and prosecution of adult marijuana use the lowest priority for law
enforcement.

In 1973, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize possession of a
small amount of marijuana, reducing the offense to a violation with a
maximum fine of $100. But voters have since rejected six attempts to
legalize the drug for recreational use.

In 1998, voters rejected a measure increasing the punishment for marijuana
possession in small amounts. At the same time, they approved a measure
allowing use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Possession of marijuana remains a noncriminal violation in the state, but
the fine ranges from $500 to $1,000.

Wise said Sensible Lane County will focus its efforts on identifying
supportive legislators and political candidates.

The group also will work for passage of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act 2,
a proposed ballot initiative that is scheduled to be filed this month. When
a petitioner files an initiative with the secretary of state, it must go
through several key steps to qualify for the ballot.

The initiative would seek to lower the annual registration fee for users
and expand some parts of the original act, including increasing the number
of plants a medical marijuana user may possess.

"It's a pathway to further reform," Wise said.

Sensible Lane County will continue as a political action committee, he
said, and may organize a nonprofit group.

The Oregonian
02/04/04
ALICE TALLMADGE