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Marijuana use is now legal, but still dangerous

Police, fire officials warn against joints in bed, impairment while driving


At midnight July 1, recreational marijuana became legal.

“Within 24 hours we had three marijuana arrests for impaired driving,” said Sgt. Bob Ray, a spokesman for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

That was an unusually high concentration of such arrests, said Ray, although he couldn’t say exactly how many of the more than 1,000 impaired drivers deputies arrest each year are impaired by pot.

Right now, people without their own grow operations can legally get recreational pot from Washington state (although they can’t bring it back to Oregon) or from marijuana-growing friends.

Recreational marijuana purchases might get easier — and closer — Oct. 1, when medical-marijuana facilities will be able to sell it. Currently, the closest location would be Mahalo, a medical marijuana facility on Hillsboro’s west side at 353 S.W. Walnut St.

But no matter where users get their legal marijuana, Forest Grove Police Capt. Mike Herb cautions them not to partake before getting in their cars to drive home.

“If folks 21 and over are recreationally using marijuana legally and they don’t drive under the influence, they won’t have any trouble with the law,” he said. If they choose otherwise, “we have officers trained in drug impairment detection, so folks should keep this in mind if they plan to use and then drive.”

For those using marijuana legally, the good news is that they no longer have to worry about hefty fines. From July 2013 through June 2015, Forest Grove officers handed out 59 “possession of a controlled substance” citations for less than an ounce of marijuana — an offense then punishable by a $650 fine.

But the long arm of the law isn’t the only thing marijuana users need to beware of. According to Forest Grove Fire & Rescue spokesman Dave Nemeyer, a Forest Grove woman set herself on fire with a still-burning joint about a year and a half ago.

The woman, who had limited mobility and trouble getting out of bed by herself, accidentally set her bed on fire with a hand-rolled joint after falling asleep. Unable to get up out of the bed, she sustained severe burns on her back and legs, but survived.

Firefighters have responded to emergencies for years where residents have set themselves or their furniture on fire with cigarettes, most commonly after they’ve fallen asleep, Nemeyer said. He expects this problem to get worse as people roll their own marijuana.

A recent FGF&R Facebook post reminds people that “roll-your-owns are not the same as the ‘fire safe’ cigarettes ... Oregon’s fire-safe cigarettes are meant to stop burning when air is not pulling through them. This is a safety measure meant partly to cut down on the instances of fires in chairs and beds. Obviously, roll-your-owns do not have this type of safety ability, so please only smoke in a safe place, and dispose of your ashes and debris in a container that will not burn. Please never smoke in bed!”

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