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Cascade in the Capitol: Testimony in Favor of Decriminalizing Marijuana

Testimony before the House Committee on Judiciary
in Favor of HB 3371
by Steve Buckstein

Good afternoon, Chair Barker and members of the Committee. I’m Steve Buckstein, Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, which is a non-profit, non-partisan think tank based in Portland.

I have provided you with a commentary I recently updated making the case for ending the war on drugs. I see HB 3371 as a significant step in that direction, although I do question some of its provisions.

The main purpose of the bill seems to be revenue generation, with a secondary purpose being the reduction of harm caused by marijuana prohibition.

I suggest that these purposes be reversed. State government is already addicted to revenue from alcohol, gambling and tobacco. You don’t need to add another addiction.

By dedicating marijuana tax revenue to specific state programs, you risk creating what economists call a moral hazard. Allocating set revenue percentages to the public school system and the state police, for example, could inadvertently encourage people in those organizations to root for more marijuana smoking.

I’m also concerned that the bill allows the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to regulate the marijuana business and collect the new taxes. Prohibiting the Commission from purchasing, owning or selling marijuana is good, but why let it have these other roles at a time when many people are seriously considering getting the state out of the alcohol business? These provisions make the bill seem as much  a full-employment program for OLCC employees as a marijuana decriminalization bill.

As a matter of public policy, I don’t want the state to support or oppose the use of marijuana. I hold the same position with regard to alcohol, gambling and tobacco. As a libertarian, I think such decisions should be left to up to free adults.

In conclusion, I hope this bill leads to decriminalizing marijuana as much as possible. I then hope that, if done right, it can serve as a guide to decriminalizing other drugs, thus winding down the disastrous war on drugs. Every such step will be good for individual Oregonians, and good for the state as a whole.

Thank you.

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