In six days, California voters will decide the fate of Proposition 64. If it passes, recreational use of marijuana would become legal in California.
In the third part of our five-night series, CBS 47 Eyewitness News explores how Oregon is doing with its recreational marijuana law, and what we can learn from them when it comes to teenage use and impaired driving.
When most of us think of marijuana grows here in the Central Valley we think of this – a drug raid. Illegal marijuana plants abruptly chopped down and tossed into a large trash dumpster.
But in Oregon, it’s a much different sight.
Behind protected locked fences lined with security cameras and alarms, twelve-foot-high primo pot plants thrive.
“This is Obamacare Number 4, a strain that we have done in house,” said Jason Warden, owner of Royal Ambrosia, a pot farm just outside of Portland.
Yes, he said Obamacare.
“It’s Obama mixed with Train Wreck,” Warden said.
Warden gave CBS 47 Eyewitness News a tour of his growing operation.
“This is our recreational garden. You’re looking at tier-two licensed by the state of Oregon,” Warden explained. “Forty-thousand square feet here.”
Warden figures the flowers on one plant alone could be worth thousands of dollars. They’ll sell the whole plant.
But who’s buying it?
“It will go toward the recreational market in Oregon,” Warden said.
A market that’s strictly controlled. The state calls it ‘seed to sale’ tracking.
It’s designed to keep the black market out.
The state enforces compliance for quality control and consumer safety. And, yes, for the money.
“I think that’s why they’re so anxious to work with us to get some of that good tax as well,” Warden said.
He says small to medium growers are doing well…so far.
“I don’t think anyone is getting squeezed out, per say.”
In part because originally Oregon’s Measure 91, like California’s Prop 64, had language to limit big out-of-state investors from coming in and cornering the market.
“It’s unfortunate to see that it does take a lot of money to produce recreationally.
But this spring. Oregon passed HB 4014, which now allows out-of-state investors into the thriving recreational marijuana market.
California’s proposed restrictions on big business would lift automatically in five years if Prop 64 passes.
Warden is a licensed grower who deals with licensed processors, wholesalers, and dispensaries.
Which sell marijuana like, well, any other product.
“It’s just like going down to the local convenience store and picking up a bag of chips,” said Luke Garrison, owner of dispensary Oregon Grown Gardens.
But some worry that easy access – like a bag of chips – could lead to excess. Especially for teens who somehow find a way to get their hands on the products.
“It’s primarily 12- to 20-year-olds,” said Oregon Health Authority Public Health Division’s Jonathan Modie.
Modie says the state’s message to teens is: wait.
“Think about your goals. Think about what you want in life, now and in the future,” Modie says.
In June, Oregon launched a one-year, $4-million campaign called “Stay True to You.”
One of the catchlines is: “Being a teenager is hard enough. I’m not sure pot would help.”
There’s a big health issue, too.
“The big thing is youth. Their brains are still developing well into their 20s,” Modie said.
In fact, a recent study by Canada’s Western University suggests the earlier you try marijuana, the lower your IQ. It impacts your cognitive function and more.
“We’re asking you to think about how marijuana might affect those goals. And just remember, your brain is still developing,” Modie said.
And another reason for teens to steer clear of pot is that, for some, it’s addicting.
Right now, Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims says, even before Prop 64, Fresno County is currently treating close to 2,000 youths for substance abuse. And 69 percent of those youth are seeking treatment for marijuana addiction.”
“Now just imagine if it’s legalized. How that’s going to affect that number,” Mims continued.
For many, the message is wait. Or don’t start at all.
“We’re seeing drugged driving cases go up in places like Washington…doubled in Washington state after legalization, according to AAA,” said Kevin Sabet, co-founder of the anti-legalization group Sam Smart Approaches To Marijuana.
But proving someone is high behind the wheel can be tricky for prosecutors.
“That’s one of the major problems that we see with this proposition if it were to pass,” said Fresno County Assistant District Attorney Steve Wright.
Wright says proving someone is legally drunk has established protocol.
“That’s the .08 percent alcohol everybody is familiar with that number,” Wright said. “The problem with Proposition 64 is there is…there is no set number. There’s no set amount.”
No set amount is also a problem in Oregon.
Should there be a benchmark?
“You know. I do not,” Measure 91’s co-author Anthony Johnson said. “Until we have secure scientific standards.”
With no scientific standards, Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims fears her deputies’ jobs will get harder. Not easier.
And in the short term, illegal pot grows will still need to be eradicated. And deputies will have to sort through 62 pages of new regulations that is Proposition 64.
“What I’m hearing from my colleges in Colorado,” Mims said, “is they’re busier than ever enforcing those regulations.”