PSU pot debate draws big crowd, conflicting opinions
Author: John Kirkland
Posted: October 22, 2014

One thing was clear in “Oregon’s Great Pot Debate” at PSU’s Lincoln Performance Hall: opinions run high on whether Oregon should legalize the recreational use of marijuana. 

The debate Tuesday, Oct. 21, concerned Measure 91, appearing on the November statewide ballot. It was part of Portland State Convenes, a series of public events spotlighting important issues facing Oregonians. It was also part of the 10-day Portland State of Mind celebration. About 350 people turned out for the debate, which was televised and moderated by KATU.

It featured two pro- and two anti-91 representatives who traded arguments for 90 minutes as they answered questions from a panel of journalists, members of the audience and persons who wrote in via social media.

“This measure is not pro-pot. It is pro-regulation,” said panelist Inge Fryklund, a former prosecutor and legal consultant in favor of passing Measure 91

Fryklund reiterated the regulation aspect of the measure throughout the debate, saying it would create quality standards, potency information, packaging laws and tight rules for selling only to adults in state-licensed dispensaries. The combination, she said, would go a long way in removing the criminal element of producing and obtaining marijuana and would help keep it out of the hands of minors.

Joshua Marquis, Clatsop County district attorney, countered that passing 91 would likely increase access to minors. Recreational users under the new law would be allowed to possess up to eight ounces of marijuana, a pound of solid “marijuana products,” 72 ounces of liquid marijuana products and an ounce of marijuana extracts – any part of which could fall into the hands of children living in the home. 

On the pro side, Richard Harris, former director of Oregon Addictions and Mental Health Services, said juvenile users today are forced to obtain their pot from illegal dealers, putting them in a more dangerous position than if it was regulated.

“The same people who sell your kids marijuana will be more than happy to sell them more dangerous drugs,” he said.

Joining Marquis on the anti-91 side was Dr. Ron Schwerzler, medical services director for Serenity Lane Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center. He said 10 percent of marijuana users become addicted to it. “We don’t need another addictive substance,” he said. 

Questions, comments and reactions from the audience leaned toward the pro-91 side, but there were also a few anti-legalization representatives, included a sheriff’s deputy from Union County, 260 miles east of Portland. He said he has seen tragedies related to illegal drug use, and is concerned about the legalization of marijuana. 

“That’s exactly a reason for passing Measure 91,” Fryklund responded. “It would be regulated. What you’ve experienced is what happens with prohibition.”

The debate was shown live on Oregonlive and KATU, and will be rebroadcast at 9 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 26 on KATU.