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Oregon Congressman: Legalize It!

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As Election Day Approaches, campaigns are making their closing arguments.

Last week, Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenhauer, a Democrat who represents Portland, made a trip to our desert town to support the passing of Prop 205.

He spoke in favor of the proposition on the University of Arizona campus, joined by local representatives such as Rep. Bruce Wheeler and Rep. Matt Kopec as well as Sunnyside School District Board member Daniel Hernandez, who is running for a District 2 spot in the state House of Representatives.

Speakers touched on several issues about why they intend to vote "yes" on Prop 205, giving a well-rounded perspective surrounding the support for the initiative. Hernandez opened citing reasons close to him as part of Sunnyside School District, focusing on the unequal effects that marijuana laws may have on minority youth.

"It becomes a cycle, where unless we do something to break that cycle, these kids aren't going to have the same opportunities as their white counterparts," Hernandez said.

There were 1,416 arrests for marijuana in Arizona in 2014, per the Arizona Department for Public Safety. Of those arrested, 13 percent were black and 46 percent identified as Hispanic, compared to Arizona's demographic distribution being 4.8 percent black and 30.7 percent Hispanic, per the United States Census Bureau.

This suggests concord with a trend seen across the country in which people of minorities are arrested at higher rates than white people. The ACLU says that blacks are 3.73 time more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites.

Wheeler took a more ideological stance.

"I don't think government should tell me whether I can smoke a joint or not," he said. "Especially when you look at alcohol, which is legal and kills hundreds, if not thousands of people every day. Marijuana doesn't kill."

The alcohol comparison is drawn a lot in the argument for legalization for the very reason Wheeler stated. Thought opponents often try to link being high as an external factor in deaths such as traffic accidents, no one has ever died from a marijuana overdose. Trust me, Snoop Dogg has tried.

Stack that up against deaths related to and directly attributed to alcohol, and the argument has some legitimacy. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are 2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths per year. Taken with identical factors, it's a far cry for marijuana to reach these kinds of numbers. Blumenhauer himself started off with the disbelief that ending marijuana prohibition has taken this long after voting for decriminalization in Oregon in 1973.

"If you would have told me back then that we'd still be fighting this battle today, I wouldn't have believed it," he said.

He attributes the delay to Nixon's initiation of the War on Drugs, a war that, by consensus, the drugs have won.

"The evidence is they are, if anything, more widely available," Blumenhauer said. "The prices are lower in many cases. We can't even keep drugs out of prison. We've destabilized Central American countries. The parade of unaccompanied migrant children fleeing Central America is in no small measure related to what we've done with this war on drugs."

Immigration from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras has risen more than from any other Central American countries according to the Migration Policy Institute. El Salvador had the highest spike in 1980 while Honduras began to rapidly increase in 1990. This is partially due to civil wars, but, more recently, to a shift in drug trafficking routes through Central America after the U.S. began targeting drug production in Colombia in the '90s.

He also pointed out the absurdity that marijuana is classified as more dangerous than cocaine and meth on the Drug Enforcement Agencies drug schedules. Marijuana is in the same schedule as heroin, and, much like the alcohol argument, there are undoubtedly more deaths attributed to cocaine, meth and heroin than marijuana.

For the complete version of this week's MMJ column, go to tucsonweekly.com

"The decisive edge will be with millennial voters, and it's exactly like marriage equality," he said. "Millennials, a decade ago, stopped obsessing over marriage equality and accepted it, and your generation drove acceptance. That's what's happening with marijuana."

We've looked at this data before. (See "Youth Pot," Sept. 15.) Pew Research Center found that 68 percent of millennials support marijuana legalization, nationally.

Blumenhauer cited recreational marijuana initiatives in Washington D.C. and Florida, where millennials turned out in higher numbers than usual.

"That is part of what needs to happen here over the course of the next 12 days," he said. "Being able to get younger voters out to the polls, it'll make a difference up and down the ticket ... for personal freedom, for justice in the legal system."

In large part, that's the question that voters need to answer next week. Is the cost of arrests enough to outweigh an imperfect initiative?

Blumenhauer thinks so.

"Every state's different," he said. "Every pro

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