One year of legal pot use yields more overdoses, confusion about marijuana laws
Local law enforcement officials have faced a learning curve dealing with legal recreational marijuana use
Eighteen months has passed since recreational marijuana use was legalized in Oregon and retail sales of recreational cannabis have been legal for nearly a year.
While the impact of that change has been hard to gage locally, local law enforcement has noticed some changes that relate to people openly and legally using pot in Crook County. One difference that the community shares in common with others in Central Oregon is an uptick in marijuana overdoses.
Prineville Police Sgt. Troy Wiles points out that the marijuana smoked in during the 1960s contained about 7 to 8 percent THC. Now, because of cannabis edibles and marijuana oil extraction, people are consuming marijuana that is up to 90 percent THC.
"The biggest thing is the edibles because you can't really regulate how much is going in there," Wiles said, "and that is where they are seeing a lot of kids having the overdoses."
Another issue the Crook County Sheriff's Office has seen is local youth mistakenly using the drug at too young of an age.
"People that are over 18, but still under 21 state they think it is legal for them to possess the marijuana now," explained Sgt. Travis Jurgens. "They don't all seem to recognize that it is controlled like alcohol and the minimum age to possess marijuana is 21."
While that is true, the number of minor in possession of marijuana cases the Sheriff's Office has fielded remains relatively flat. In 2013, they had 10 such cases, and the number dropped to six in 2014, then four in 2015. This past year, they dealt with five minor in possession cases.
Impaired driver cases associated with marijuana have also remained steady at the county level since marijuana was legalized for recreational use and sale.
"The numbers have fluctuated from as many as eight DUII's involving marijuana in 2013 to three in 2014, four in 2015 and five in 2016," Jurgens said.
Wiles, meanwhile, says it is difficult to single out marijuana use as the culprit for impairment. He notes that most people who get arrested for DUII have consumed a combination of alcohol and another drug.
When it comes to following the new laws prompted by Measure 91 and enforcing them, Jurgens has primarily noticed a lack of knowledge about marijuana laws that has made the transition complicated.
"We still have a lot of misinformation and questions regarding grows, how many plants one can possess, how much marijuana one can possess and at what age a person can possess marijuana," he said.
Wiles added that as they encounter marijuana use during day-to-day police work, they have to consider several other factors before an arrest might come into play. For example, is it medicinal? Is there any in the car? Do they have the proper number of marijuana plants?
"It has just made it more out in the open," he said, "but it is also kind of hard to enforce."