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Prohibition Continues In Parts of Oregon Despite the Passage of Measure 91

In a completely unnecessary political compromise called HB 3400, the Oregon Legislature created a huge caveat to one of the central principles of Measure 91. That deal for the benefit of Oregon Republicans gave anti-cannabis localities the right to ban commercial cannabis growers, processors, and sellers. This prohibition allows cities and counties to stop existing medical marijuana dispensaries from selling recreational cannabis and to prevent any new cannabis stores from opening. Prohibitionist Oregonians with local majorities soon got to work undoing the will of the people. Six counties and 17 cities have enacted bans so far, and these bans all include all three types of new cannabis businesses that are starting all over Oregon.

The prohibitionist agenda is alive and well in Central Oregon. La Pine and Crook County have recently enacted bans on cannabis businesses. Despite almost unanimously pro-cannabis business crowds in public meetings in both jurisdictions, and classically vague and uninformed "security" arguments on the other side, many who attended these meetings left feeling that, as one farmer told me, "they [elected officials] had made up their mind before the meeting."

The Madras City Council has decided to temporarily ban all new cannabis businesses until November 2016, and will likely stop existing medical marijuana dispensaries in the city from selling recreational cannabis on September 22 as well. But reason seems to have ultimately prevailed in Madras, by a 3-2 City Council vote. Voters there will get to decide in 2016 whether to permanently ban cannabis businesses from their community.

Deschutes County is also considering a ban on new cannabis businesses, with Sheriff Shane Nelson said to favor a complete ban. But, as with other locations in Central Oregon, the commissioners have heard from many people who have already invested substantially in new cannabis businesses in the time between Measure 91 passing and HB 3400 taking away the rights given (back) by Measure 91. Now, Deschutes County Commissioners seem to be focused on creating regulations for growers and possibly banning people who want to trim and package cannabis or create edibles.

If you're a fan of "Battlestar Galactica" or have even a passing knowledge of American history, you will know that all this has happened before, and, apparently, will happen again. The alcohol prohibition movement began with the notion that a nationwide ban on alcohol was necessary for the total sobriety of Americans to have the desired effect on the national character. After the disastrous Eighteenth Amendment was repealed, several localities in areas such as the Deep South with serious "security concerns" about alcohol enacted their own bans on alcohol. Thus was born the "dry county."

And the dry county isn't just a historical artifact—it exists to this day in rural America. Yours truly had the distinct pleasure of attending college at an institution located in a dry county. And the effect of that law was unbelievable. Hardly any students at the university drank. The university set itself apart on several important metrics of student achievement, with lower dropout rates, higher attendance, less sexual assault, fewer car accidents, and greater church attendance.

Of course, none of that is true. We drove to the next county and bought massive quantities of alcohol at a store located in a large barn mere yards from the county line. Then we drove 45 minutes back to campus, often consuming some of the alcohol on the way, something that would have been unthinkable for a 10-minute ride to the liquor store. And we drank just as much, if not more, than students at any other school in the country.

Yes, the very idea of local prohibition is farcical. The economy does not start and stop at the city limits or the county line. Forget all the people who have invested their life savings before being betrayed by the politicians in Salem, and forget all of the tax money that those businesses will pour into our drastically underfunded schools. The effects of legalized cannabis will be felt in all of Oregon regardless of whether your local politicians keep their heads in the sand.

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