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Rep. Blumenauer says five years; California advocate predicts two years

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer had a busy weekend, riding TriMet's Orange Line train Saturday morning when the light-rail line to Milwaukie opened, and speaking Sunday at the Oregon Medical Marijuana Business Conference.U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer says the end is in sight for a national prohibition on marijuana that has lasted eight decades.

A retired California judge who was the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential nominee in 2012 thinks the end could come within the next two years.

Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, and Judge Jim Gray offered their outlooks in separate appearances Saturday and Sunday at the Oregon Medical Marijuana Business Conference at the Portland Hilton.

Blumenauer, who spoke Sept. 13, said he has already made a public bet broadcast in New Hampshire, which holds the nation’s first presidential primary. “In five years, we will have turned a corner. We will be treating marijuana as we do alcohol,” Blumenauer says. “States will do what they want, and the federal government will get out of the way.”

Nearly half the states, including Oregon, allow some form of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Four states, including Oregon in 2014, have legalized its recreational use by adults.

The Oregon measure took effect July 1, but the Oregon Liquor Control Commission does not expect to issue licenses for retail sales until well into 2016. Lawmakers will allow medical marijuana dispensaries, which they authorized in 2013, to conduct sales to adults as a stopgap starting Oct. 1.

Registration for the Portland Hilton conference was close to 600, according to sponsors.

As California goes

Gray supported failed attempts to pass a similar ballot measure in California, where voters rejected it in 2010 and it did not qualify for a vote in 2012.

But Gray, who spoke Saturday as the keynote speaker, says the third time in 2016 will be different — and once the nation’s most populous state joins the four others in legalizing it the tide will turn.

“People are beginning to understand that marijuana is the largest cash crop in California, so we might as well regulate and control it and take away a bunch of money from some pretty bad people,” Gray said after his speech.

“Marijuana prohibition will be over by the end of 2017. The federal government simply will not be able to continue this ill-fated policy losing California. Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska began the tidal wave. California is going to put the nail in the coffin.”

Gray was a judge for almost three decades, including a stint as an Orange County Superior Court judge from 1989 to 2009. While on the bench in 2001, he wrote a book questioning the federal enforcement effort known as the “war on drugs.”

After praising the stance of Gary Johnson, a former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, Gray joined the Libertarian Party ticket led by Johnson in 2012.

“Government is not good at controlling what we as adults put in their bodies, nor should it be,” Gray said in his speech.

“Let’s get it out: Marijuana is a viable medicine and recreational drug – and it is used responsibly by virtually everybody.”

Gray says he would make exceptions for people who drive or show up at work while intoxicated. He acknowledges that unlike alcohol, which can be detected through breath and blood tests, there is still no reliable test to determine marijuana intoxication. (Urine tests can turn up traces of marijuana chemicals up to 30 days after usage, but not whether someone is under the influence.)

“If you come to work and you are drunk on martinis, employers have the full right to take appropriate action,” he says. “The same thing is in regard to marijuana.”

Like other businesses

During a brief question-and-answer session after his remarks Sunday, Blumenauer said he is still hopeful of advancing measures sought by owners of medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivators and processors for the adult market. One would allow such businesses to deduct operating expenses as others do now, and the other would allow them access to banking services.

“It is not going to pass as stand-alone legislation. It should, but it isn’t,” Blumenauer says. “We will have an opportunity to amend it in (other legislation). I am cautiously optimistic we are going to get that change in this Congress.

“I have never encountered a single human being who thinks any good purpose is served by forcing a business to be conducted on an all-cash basis.”

Differing views

At a Salem City Club luncheon Friday, businesswoman Margo Lucas and Police Chief Jerry Moore made it clear they still disagree about legalization that voters approved last year as Measure 91.

“But once we saw the handwriting on the wall, we tried to work with the industry and legislators to hammer out rules we thought were fair and enforceable,” says Moore, who opposed Measure 91.

“Whether we philosophically agree with it or not, we understand it is the law.”

Moore and Lucas do agree with Blumenauer that marijuana-related businesses need access to banking services.

“They have a lot of product and a lot of cash,” Moore says.

Lucas, who runs a clinic and a dispensary, says banking is only one of the challenges she and others have faced since passage of the measure.

“The landscape is changing,” says Lucas, who also attended the Portland conference. “But it’s a fun time to be in the marijuana business.”

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Adds registration figure for conference.

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