Editorials from Oregon newspapers
Albany Democrat-Herald, July 8: "Memorial at mental hospital raises vital questions for today"
They numbered in the thousands, the copper urns containing the cremated remains of patients who had been forgotten inside the halls of the old Oregon state mental hospital.
The urns, some 3,500 of them, were discovered in the bowels of the decrepit facility, where "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" was filmed. The urns were discovered in 2005, as lawmakers toured the hospital.
The discovery added a punctuation mark to the history of the hospital, which (as Associated Press reporter Jonathan Cooper noted in Monday's front-page story) became a symbol of Oregon's — and the nation's — dark legacy of treating the mentally ill by warehousing them, out of sight, out of mind.
Between 1913 and 1971, more than 5,300 people were cremated at the hospital. Most were patients at the mental institution, as Cooper reported, but not all of them. Some of them died at local hospitals or the state tuberculosis hospital. Some died at a state penitentiary or the Fairview Training Center, where people with developmental disabilities were institutionalized.
Some of the patients stayed for a lifetime at the hospital for conditions like depression and bipolar disorder — ailments that we now can treat on an outpatient basis.
The Associated Press story reported on a research effort to unearth the personal stories behind those urns — and to reunite the remains with surviving relatives. On Monday, officials dedicated a memorial to those patients.
Give a big measure of credit for this effort to state Senate President Peter Courtney, who led an effort to replace the hospital and build the memorial.
With any luck, the memorial will offer a stark warning about the personal (and societal) price we pay for trying to sweep mental health issues under the rug — a warning that should still resonate with chilling force even today.
"At the time, they just put them in a safe place and treated them with what they knew to treat them," said Sharon Weber, who led the two-year research project to connect the lives of real people to their remains.
That was the reasoning they used back then. We know now where that led.
We like to think that we've made progress since then, and — truthfully — we have. The memorial is a good idea and long overdue. But it leaves unanswered vital questions: Who is being left in the shadows today? What can we do today to make sure we don't have to install another memorial like this one?
The Bulletin, July 9: "Oregon skimps on pot safety"
Medical marijuana is supposed to make people better. But Oregon is not doing enough to ensure it is safe.
Tom Burns, the director of pharmacy programs for the Oregon Health Authority, said last week that because there is no certification or testing of the labs that test medical pot, "I'm just not sure I can assure the product is safe." He added: "I think it puts patients' health at risk."
State law requires marijuana sold by retailers to be tested for pesticides, mold and mildew. There are labs that do that testing. But the state doesn't have the authority to certify or test the labs to ensure they meet testing standards.
Does that seem like sufficient safety controls for a drug? Not to us.
Most drugs are treated far differently under the law. The Food and Drug Administration inspects foreign and domestic drug manufacturing plants. It also samples and tests drugs from stores, warehouses and manufacturing sites. There's no guarantee that the FDA's testing catches all contamination or problems, but Oregon's standards for medical marijuana seem downright lackadaisical by comparison.
Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, who authored the legislation that expanded medical marijuana to stores, told The Bulletin he did not intend to withhold authority to regulate marijuana-testing labs. And he plans on fixing it in the next legislative session.
He says the main goal was to establish "safe access" for patients who may have had difficulty getting access.
That's all very nice. And, of course, no drug is ever risk-free. But in his effort to swiftly pass his legislation and get patients "safe access," Buckley failed to provide even rudimentary protection for patients that the drug is safe from contaminants.
The Oregon Health Authority proudly proclaims on its website that "multiple states have requested information on Oregon's program to use as a model for their own medical marijuana initiatives and registration systems." We hope they do a better job of protecting patients.
The Register-Guard, July 10: "Wake-up call on assaults: Survey says many colleges ignoring sexual violence"
The University of Oregon's inept, slow-motion initial response to a student's allegations of sexual assault against three UO basketball players is part of a national pattern: Many U.S. colleges and universities fall short in how they investigate and resolve such claims.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who in recent years has focused on sexual assault in the military, commissioned an in-depth survey of sexual assault complaints at 440 four-year colleges. It examined policies for investigating assault reports, as well as whether institutions properly train faculty and staff to work with local law enforcement.
On Wednesday, McCaskill released survey findings showing that a dismaying number of schools are failing to protect their students. More than 40 percent reported that they hadn't conducted a single investigation on sexual assaults in the past five years, despite a federal law requiring that every case be promptly investigated.
The survey found that many schools failed to encourage students to report assaults, and did not provide training for students, faculty and staff on how to respond to complaints.
An appalling 22 percent of schools surveyed allow their athletic departments to oversee sexual violence complaints involving student athletes. As McCaskill noted, "You cannot expect the athletic department, which is in charge of giving scholarships, or depends on the athletic prowess of young men or women, that they will be fair, or at least have the appearance of being fair."
Only 51 percent of institutions had a hotline for students who have been assaulted, and only 44 percent provided the option of reporting sexual assaults online.
More than 40 percent of the largest public schools responding to the survey allow students to help adjudicate sexual assault cases — a practice that McCaskill, a former sex crime prosecutor, noted is "rife" with potential legal and procedural problems.
McCaskill plans to use the survey results to craft legislation that would require schools to improve their handling of sexual assaults. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has stepped up federal oversight of colleges, and 60 schools are being investigated for possible violations of the 1972 antidiscrimination law known as Title IX related to their handling of sexual assault complaints.
McCaskill's survey represents a promising step in what must be a broad-based approach to reducing the number of sexual assaults on campuses, improving how complaints are investigated and resolved, ensuring that assailants are brought to justice and making certain that victims receive the help they need and deserve.
Klamath Falls Herald and News, July 9: "Weed all about it: Oregon pot vote is on its way here"
Oregon should keep an eye on its neighbor to the north as Washington deals with the legalization of recreational marijuana. It looks likely Oregon will be voting on the same issue in November.
Washington state began issuing licenses to pot stores this week. Voters legalized recreational marijuana use in 2012. It's being handled through Washington state's Liquor Control Commission. Like Oregon, Washington controls and regulates the sale of liquor through retail liquor stores operated by contracted agents.
An initiative petition has been turned in to the Oregon Secretary of State's office with what its sponsors estimated are 145,000 signatures. Only 87,213 valid signatures of registered voters are required to put the measure on the ballot, so it looks like a certainty. State officials have until Aug. 2 to verify the count.
Meanwhile, Oregonians can take a look at life with legalized recreational marijuana as it plays out in Washington, which is only the width of the Columbia River away from a big chunk of Oregon's population.
Oregon's debate is likely to be over the cost of enforcing existing Oregon pot laws, the revenue from Oregon that may flee north to Washington to buy marijuana there, the potential impact of tax revenue in Oregon from legalized marijuana sales and the biological, social and criminal results of such a radical change in Oregon law.
There's much to be explored, debated and discussed and no assurance the reticence of Oregonians to accept legalized marijuana will prevail again, as it did in 2012, when 53.44 percent of Oregon voters opposed it.
Oregonians will have a few months — which isn't much time — to see how events in Washington state play out. They also can look at Colorado, where the sale of recreational marijuana became legal Jan. 1.
Neither state is likely to offer much in the way of what long-term effects will be, but they might at least provide guidance on likely short-term problems. It would take the switch of only a few percent of the Oregon electorate that voted "no" two years ago to make it happen in Oregon.
Medford Mail Tribune, July 9: "Ashland is ahead of the curve on marijuana"
We have two words for the city of Ashland's handling of the still-evolving medical marijuana situation: Pretty smart.
The Ashland City Council last week approved a host of regulations — including one and possibly two taxes — on marijuana. In doing so, it inscribed the lines that marijuana-related businesses must stay within if they wish to operate in the city.
The regulations set in place a variety of rules that will help protect the residents of the city, medical marijuana users and the dispensaries that make the effort to operate on the right side of the law.
Among the rules are prohibitions against smoking marijuana or tobacco in the businesses, limiting operating hours, confining odors to within the dispensaries, restricting employment of people with drug records and prohibiting the production of extracts or use of open flames, which have led to explosions and fires elsewhere.
The council also agreed to impose a tax of up to 5 percent on the sale of medical marijuana and up to 10 percent on the sale of marijuana sold for recreational use.
Of course, recreational use of marijuana is not legal, but a statewide vote to legalize it is set for November. The measure prohibits local jurisdictions from imposing taxes on recreational marijuana, but it's not clear that the prohibition would apply to existing taxes.
Ashland is smart not only in establishing taxes to help pay for the costs associated with potential enforcement issues, but also in recognizing the cultural shift that is under way and getting out in front of it.
That stands in stark contrast to several other local cities, including Medford, which have grasped at legal straws to fend off the establishment of any marijuana-related businesses.
City councils populated largely by older men who grew up in a different era are making decisions based on that era, and in doing so are placing their communities firmly behind the curve instead of in front of it.
We are not advocating here for the legalization of marijuana, which will undoubtedly bring its own issues for communities to deal with.
But medical marijuana and dispensaries to distribute it to patients are already legal.
The Ashland council recognizes that the winds have shifted and is setting up that city not only to deal with the shift, but also to provide a revenue stream to assist with the change and whatever it brings with it.
The Oregonian, July 7: "Washington forcing Oregon's hand on pot legalization"
For people who don't vote in Oregon, Washington residents sure exercise a lot of influence here.
When Washington voters privatized retail liquor sales in 2011, new fees and taxes raised prices so dramatically that some Washingtonians began buying their booze in Oregon. The phenomenon was a double victory for Oregon's state-run system. Not only did liquor sales pick up, but Washington's experience made privatization a tougher sell here, which may have contributed to the demise this year of a proposed initiative to that end.
When voters in Washington approved retail marijuana sales in 2012, they also opened up new shopping opportunities for Oregonians. No, recreational pot will not be sold legally to Oregonians in Oregon. But as of early this week, Oregonians may buy it in Vancouver, where businesses received two of the 24 retail licenses issued Monday morning by the Washington State Liquor Control Board. More licenses will be forthcoming.
The proximity to Portland is the very reason some would-be marijuana merchants chose to locate in Vancouver, as The Oregonian's Noelle Crombie has reported. It's a no-brainer, really. Multnomah County contains about 20 percent of Oregon's population, meaning a mere bridge separates significant demand for recreational pot from what will become a dependable (and legal) supply. Add Clackamas and Washington counties, and about 45 percent of the state's population lives within a short road trip of a legally purchased joint. The law does prohibit the transportation of marijuana across state lines, but that will dissuade few Beaver State cannabis commuters.
In effect, Washington voters have changed the question Oregonians will answer in November, when they cast their ballots for or against legalization. To a significant degree, the question of availability has been settled. Credit — or blame — rests with both Oregonians, who approved a wide-open medical marijuana system, and Washingtonians, who will now be peddling pot legally to thousands of Oregonians.
November's vote will really be about two issues: convenience and taxation. Now, those who oppose pot legalization aren't going to vote for it simply to save tokers time and money. But many may given the knowledge that Oregonians, beginning Tuesday, will contribute revenue to Washington that they would, given the chance, contribute to Oregon. The Oregon legalization initiative would devote tax revenue to, among other things, education and law enforcement.
The legalization campaign is young, and reasons may arise to oppose the measure despite the fact that many Oregonians will soon live a short drive from retail marijuana shops anyway. At this point, however, the argument in favor of legalization certainly appears stronger than the argument against it. Marijuana opponents who resent being maneuvered into an uncomfortable position by Washington voters should think of November's vote as an opportunity to fight back, depriving the Evergreen State of pot taxes, just as Oregon's liquor stores have captured a piece of Washington's liquor business.