Community members spoke out Monday about a new city ordinance concerning
marijuana possession

Eugene and Springfield citizens opposing a new city ordinance aimed at
increasing the fine for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana
voiced their concerns Monday night before the Eugene City Council.

The ordinance, which would increase the fine from $100 to $250, is designed
to give more incentive for people to join a new, inexpensive diversion
program that would cost about $90 for any offender. The current state
diversion program costs between $600 and $900, according to Municipal Court
Judge Wayne Allen.

But the public forum was ideologically imbalanced, with nine people
speaking against the ordinance and one speaking in favor.

Todd Dalotto, president of the Eugene-based Compassion Center, said many
medical marijuana patients who can't afford the fee for a medical marijuana
card turn to street use, and are thus subject to ticketing even though they
are not feeding an addiction.

"There are a lot of people on the streets out there who are in possession
of under an ounce of marijuana to mitigate symptoms or affects of their
serious conditions," he said. "We need to look at removing all penalties
for simple possession of marijuana."

Other detractors focused their debate around the unbalanced affect that
increased fines would have on marijuana users.

"I consider this as more of a 'sin' tax that is going to affect the younger
and the poor people the most." Cindy Noblitt said. "I think students have
incentive enough,"

Allen, who was the lone supporter of the ordinance during the public forum,
explained that the intent is to expand incentive for a diversion program
similar to what was done when the City Council increased MIP fines from
$100 to $250 in 1999.

"We do this not to raise revenue, not to raise fines, but simply to make a
workable diversion program," he said.

Allen added that students cited for less than an ounce and who want to
choose diversion have a hard time affording the expensive and long state

Although councilors didn't vote on the ordinance, many responded to
arguments the public gave and asked specific questions for further study.

Ward 1 Councilor Bonny Bettman said she came prepared to support the new
diversion program.

"If people can afford to buy marijuana, they can afford to pay the
penalty," she said.

But Bettman said the testimony at the meeting also gave her pause,
especially from detractors who argued marijuana smokers using the drug for
health purposes could be harmed.

Councilor David Kelly, Ward 3, said the council should not focus on the
issue of legalization -- which is what many community members spoke out
about -- but instead on the merits of the diversion program.

"Nothing we are doing on the Eugene city level speaks for or against
legalization," he said.

Councilor George Poling, Ward 4, agreed, saying the diversion program
should be the focus.

"If one person can get off the use of alcohol or narcotics or drugs through
any type of diversion program, then it was worth it," Poling said.

The City Council will revisit the ordinance at a future meeting.

Pubdate: Tue, 14 Jan 2003
Source: Oregon Daily Emerald (OR)
Copyright: 2003, Oregon Daily Emerald