Editorials from Oregon newspapers
Albany Democrat-Herald, June 3: "Voters should heed lessons of pot legalization"
Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that some sort of measure legalizing the recreational use of marijuana qualifies for the Oregon ballot in November.
That's certainly not a long shot: In the wake of successful legalization efforts in Washington state and Colorado, Oregon marijuana advocates are gathering signatures for such a ballot measure.
During the election campaign, we're almost certain to hear about the experiences to date with legalized marijuana in Washington and Colorado. And, if the measure passes, it will fall to state regulators to write the rules implementing the ballot measure, in much the same fashion as a state panel worked out the rules governing medical marijuana dispensaries in Oregon.
So we were intrigued by a weekend story in The New York Times tracking what's happened in Colorado in the five months since recreational marijuana sales were allowed there.
As the story itself noted, however, you have to take these initial reports with a big grain of salt: They're almost all based on anecdotes. It may be years before we see reliable health statistics on the impact of legalizing marijuana.
With that said, one particular area that has been troublesome in Colorado (and this is an area where both legalization fans and foes agree) involves marijuana-infused edible items.
So far this year, the Times reported, nine children have ended up at a children's hospital in Aurora after consuming marijuana; six of the children were critically ill. In addition, authorities believe edible marijuana played a role in the deaths of two adults.
In response, Colorado has tightened its labeling and packaging rules for edible marijuana. In addition, regulators are considering limiting the amount of THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana) that can be added to edibles. These are regulations that Oregon would be wise to consider to try to prevent similar problems, assuming that legalization passes muster with voters.
It's not clear yet whether legalization in Colorado has increased the trafficking of marijuana to neighboring states. (It's also not clear how much of an issue this would be in Oregon, where most interstate trafficking follows Interstate 5, and where one of our neighbors already has legalized pot.)
Meanwhile, proponents say that the vast majority of Colorado's pot retailers are obeying state laws and regulations and that the young marijuana industry has generated $12.6 million in taxes and fees thus far — less than expected, but still a boon for state coffers.
We'll be hearing a lot more in the months to come about how marijuana legalization is playing out in Colorado and Washington state. While we need to remember that these anecdotes can be twisted to serve political ends, Oregon voters still can learn from the experiences of other states in deciding whether the time is right for legalization here.
East Oregonian, June 4: "Rural Oregon facing mental health issues alone"
Eastern Oregon is not immune to the dangers of mental illness.
But it does have a dearth of mental health professionals.
And that can exacerbate the problem — when people in need don't seek help and there are a lack of professionals available to serve those who do.
For example, according to the Oregon Psychiatric Association, the number of dedicated child psychologists operating east of the Cascades is in the single digits while hundreds operate in Portland alone.
Yes, we all know Portlanders who need plenty of professional counseling — that traffic and bad fashion can't help — but there is a real need in rural Oregon as well. And that need is not currently being met.
There are stigmas on both sides that are currently keeping the needy and the providers apart.
First, the stigma in seeking mental health care. No one would ever fault someone seeking treatment for a broken leg or a serious disease, but we can begrudge or look down on a person seeking treatment for their mental well-being.
They could be shunned by their families, friends and neighbors, wrongly thought to be a danger to society at worst, or a bad party guest at best.
They can be considered "mentally weak" when we wouldn't dare consider that person with a fractured fibula as "leg weak."
Slowly, society is trying to be more accepting of those with mental illness. Science and medicine are helping, too, with more treatment options that allow sufferers to be themselves, as well as productive members of the world around them.
But there is also a stigma on the other side of the coin. Professionals who achieve years of higher education in order to be a licensed clinician are rarely willing to move to smaller cities. They face significant financial burdens, but they also face being stigmatized from colleagues who wonder what skeleton in the closet they are running from.
If you aren't in the bigger urban areas, colleagues just don't think you are up to snuff or are suspect for embracing a place where you can be isolated. That certainly isn't true. In order to run a successful operation in rural America, you must have a wider variety of skills than are required in larger population areas. And everyone knows the scrutiny in small towns can be just as strong —if not stronger — than any metropolitan area.
We hope both sides find some middle ground: that more specialists and subspecialists make time for rural Oregon, locate their practice here or set aside time to help rural patients via telephone or videoconferencing.
And we also hope rural Oregonians can shed the stigma that surrounds mental health issues. We should feel free to seek help if we need it and also remain supportive and inclusive of people suffering from mental illness.
The Daily Astorian, June 4: "Fees by forest owners may alienate public"
Weyerhaeuser's latest strategy for wringing maximum income from its Pacific Northwest forests — charging fees for access — is the obvious outcome of the merger in the late 20th century of most community-based logging operations into a few giant multinational corporations.
In Clatsop County, a 14,400-acre tract of forest — 22.5 square miles — bound by Highways 26, 202 and 103 near Jewell will require a fee of $155 every six months. A maximum of 125 permits will be issued. The initial permit period runs from Aug. 1 through Jan. 31, 2015. Permits go on sale at 6 p.m. June 24. See www.wyrecreationnw.com for complete details.
Weyerhaeuser is headquartered in Washington state, where it acquired vast forests a century ago in a still-controversial collaboration with the Northern Pacific Railroad. For decades, it made so much money by harvesting timber it acquired for $6 a acre that charging fees never crossed executives' minds. But in the 21st century, Weyerhaeuser and other large timberland owners regard themselves not as logging companies, but as investment firms that owe shareholders a duty to make money from land in every feasible way.
Weyerhaeuser didn't have much of a presence in Oregon until it acquired Willamette Industries in 2002 in a hostile buyout. Willamette was well regarded here for its generous tradition of corporate citizenship. Weyerhaeuser has made little effort to live up to that example.
Citizen opinions differ about the fees. Some see them as a reasonable free-market decision, especially because Weyerhaeuser incurs significant costs for cleaning up litter and repairing damage caused by visitors. Others see fees as a gross violation of a social compact that once provided access as a sort of fringe benefit for employees and the small towns where they lived.
Under long-established laws, all landowners are within their rights to exclude others from private property or impose fees and other conditions. The more complex question is whether Weyerhaeuser and other forest owners are politically smart to alienate taxpayers, voters and legislators.
Forest firms that charge fees for access should not be surprised if citizens advocate reciprocal fees for fire protection and other public services.
The Bulletin, June 8: "Legislature gets another shot at liquor control reform"
Oregon lawmakers will get another chance to fix the state monopoly on liquor sales, and that could be a good thing.
The renewed opportunity comes from the decision Wednesday to halt a ballot initiative planned for this November. Oregonians for Competition had planned to ask voters to dismantle state liquor control, allowing liquor to be sold in grocery stores along with beer and wine. Organizers decided they didn't have enough time to gather signatures on the preferred version of their initiative, which has been tied up in court disputes about the wording of its ballot title. Organizers didn't want the words "sales tax" or "tax" to appear in the title, given voters' distaste for approving taxes.
While we agree with Oregonians for Competition that the state should relinquish control of the liquor sales business, we're not sure the blunt instrument of the initiative process is the best method.
The issue has numerous complexities, including the need to preserve the income governments receive from the current system. Millions of dollars now flow into the state general fund, as well as to cities, counties and drug- and alcohol-abuse programs. There's also an issue with protecting the state's craft distilling business, which could have trouble getting shelf space in stores if the initiative passed.
We were also troubled by the limits the initiative would have placed on the size of stores that would be permitted to sell liquor. Only stores of 10,000 square feet or more would have gained that opportunity under the proposal.
And the issue is clouded by the experience of Washington state, where prices rose sharply after state control was ended, the opposite of what many expected.
Legislators have considered proposals to revamp the state's liquor control system before, and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission offered a hybrid system in the last legislative session. The petition's organizers had previously said they would end their petition drive if the state took action. Now they say they will once again seek legislative action to accomplish their aims.
Legislators must look carefully at Washington state's experience, as well as the many challenges involved in changing Oregon's outdated system. Getting the state out of liquor sales is the right thing to do, but it has to be done the right way.
(Medford) Mail Tribune, June 5: "Oregonians haven't joined the 'state of Jefferson' bandwagon, for good reasons"
Voters in two Northern California counties have declined to join the thundering herd calling for the formation of a new "state of Jefferson," proving that common sense has not entirely departed from the region. Meanwhile, most of the clamor for secession seems to be coming from south of the state line, meaning Southern Oregonians apparently understand the futility of a gesture that would leave them worse off than they are now.
So far, boards of supervisors (what they call county commissioners down there) in Siskiyou, Modoc, Glenn and Yuba counties have adopted resolutions to explore the idea of seceding from the state of California. On Tuesday, voters in Del Norte County rejected a secession ballot measure, and Siskiyou County voters said no to a measure renaming their county the Republic of Jefferson. A secession resolution passed in Tehama County.
The sentiment behind the recently rediscovered movement is not hard to understand. The predominantly rural counties are suffering financially after the decline of the timber industry, and voters feel ignored by lawmakers in Sacramento, where the state legislature is dominated by representatives of big-city districts who focus on big-city problems.
Anger at the federal government plays a role, too — huge swaths of public land rich in resources are controlled by Washington, D.C. Local residents are frustrated that the good-paying jobs that land once supported are largely gone, the victim of environmental protection laws and lawsuits.
Leaving aside the fact that secession would have to be approved in both state legislatures and in Congress — a virtual impossibility — there is one big problem with the concept of carving a new state out of portions of Southern Oregon and Northern California: money.
Even if secession were approved, the new state would instantly become the poorest in the country when the flow of dollars from Sacramento and Salem dried up.
The counties potentially included in the state of Jefferson receive more funding from their respective state governments than they pay in taxes. What's more, as Jackson County Commissioner John Rachor noted, this county gets more federal money as part of Oregon than it would as a less-populated state.
Thinking the new state would just make up the difference with all those public-land resources now "locked up" by bureaucracy and regulation? Think again.
That bureaucracy and regulation is federal — and the land would remain federal, even within a new state.
All of this could explain why the secession idea hasn't gained much traction north of the border, but not why so many Northern Californians have embraced it.
Maybe it's something in the water.
The (Eugene) Register-Guard, June 9: "CRC is back from the dead; But project promises to be heavy lift in both states"
It's cats, not bridges, that are supposed to have nine lives. Yet another plan may be surfacing for a new Interstate 5 bridge across the Columbia River, less than three months after the Oregon Legislature declined to provide funding for an effort that would have had the state take on full responsibility for building the nearly $3-billion project.
Oregon lawmakers made a tough but correct call earlier this year against renewing Oregon's $450-million share for the project. The Legislature had approved the funds in 2013, but the authorization had expired after Washington state lawmakers defeated a transportation bill that included that state's equal share. If Oregon legislators had renewed the funding, they would have committed the state to taking full responsibility for a massive and trouble-plagued project that ought to be a joint effort by the states on both sides of the Columbia.
Last week, The (Vancouver) Columbian newspaper reported that a dozen lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, from Oregon and Washington met behind closed doors in Vancouver to revive plans for replacing the aging, inadequate I-5 bridge. One of the lawmakers attending what officials are calling the Bi-State Bridge Coalition said they conducted a post-mortem on the failed Columbia River Crossing project and began what promises to be the difficult process of rebuilding relationships damaged by Washington's abandonment of the project and Oregon's subsequent go-it-alone strategy.
That's a good and necessary start, and it's heartening that at least a dozen lawmakers from both states understand the need to replace the existing bridge — the northbound portion of which is nearly 100 years old. The bridges, with three lanes in each direction and no emergency lanes, are typically clogged with traffic for at least six hours a day. A center portion of the bridges is regularly raised to allow ships to pass beneath, resulting in lengthy delays. Accidents are frequent, and none of the vintage bridge spans that support more than 100,000 vehicles a day were designed with earthquakes in mind — the kind of earthquakes scientists warn could happen any time in the Pacific Northwest.
The lawmakers also discussed asking Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to form a commission that would guide a new project. One of the first things that body should determine is whether there is sufficient support in Washington to proceed. It's one thing for lawmakers from the southern portion of the state to support the project, but it remains unclear if there is sufficient support from Seattle-area officials representing the center of political power in the state.
There will be no need to start from scratch on planning. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on the design work, but several contentious issues will have to be resolved. They include the inclusion of light rail — a sticking point for many Washington opponents — and what has proven to be the formidably difficult challenge of building a liftless bridge that is high enough to allow river traffic to pass below unimpeded. (The last design would have required the compensation of several upriver companies whose river traffic would have been unable to make it under the new span.)
Another difficult issue is tolling, which some fear could cause many commuters to drive east onto the I-205 bridge for a toll-free Columbia River crossing and cause further congestion on that already heavily used freeway.
Getting a green light on the CRC promises to be a heavy lift in both states, including Oregon, where state Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, has warned of "bridge fatigue" after lawmakers have grappled with the issue twice in the past year.
But a safe and efficient replacement bridge should be a high priority for both states. Wednesday's meeting was a first baby step toward achieving that difficult goal, and hopefully more will follow.