LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. — Both sides in Oregon's debate over whether to legalize marijuana are appealing to maternal instincts with the election less than three weeks away.
At a Moms Against Marijuana Legalization event on Friday, mothers said legalization would harm children and families because it would increase social acceptance of the drug, its availability and access.
"We already have a marijuana problem in Oregon. We don't need to make it even bigger," said Mandi Puckett, a mother and director of the No on 91 campaign.
Puckett and the other mothers said one of their greatest concerns is that marijuana-infused edibles — such as gummies, cookies, lollipops, sodas, and even microwave popcorn — could easily fall in the hands of children, leading to accidental consumption. Marijuana companies, which stand to make a huge profit if legalization occurs, will be marketing the products to children like Big Tabaco once did, Puckett said.
The mothers point to Colorado, where marijuana was legalized this year, and where over 200 pot-infused edibles are available for purchase. Some producers even buy regular sweets in bulk and spray them with hash oil.
"What child doesn't want to eat a gummy peach or a brownie?" said Jennifer Shepherd, a mother who flew to the Oregon event from Denver. "Once they're out of the package, you can't tell they have THC in them," she added, referring to marijuana's psychoactive ingredient.
Last week, the Denver Police Department issued a video in time for Halloween, warning parents that it's very easy to mistake what looks like regular candy for a marijuana edible.
Shepherd, who was spurred to action when a dispensary opened facing her children's playground, said parents and educators are also concerned that young people will bring edibles to school and will be able to hide them from adults, because the products are small or similar to real candy. She said in Colorado, advertisers have already tried to attract young people by giving discounts on marijuana to those with a college student ID.
But marijuana proponents say the existing black market for marijuana already makes children's access much easier.
"The money is going to illegal dealers, drugs, and drug cartels," said Peter Zuckerman, the pro-91 campaign's spokesman, at a separate event for moms in Portland.
The mothers in favor of Measure 91 argued that legalization would benefit children and families because it would regulate a market that's illegal and underground. The women are part of the Facebook group Moms for YES on Measure 91, which has over 100 members.
"Right now marijuana is sold on streets, at parks, outside schools, under the bleachers at games. It's completely unregulated," said Portland stay-at-home mother Leah Maurer. "Measure 91 will bring marijuana off the streets."
Maurer, a mother of three children who serves as treasurer of the National Cannabis Coalition, also said 40 percent of the tax revenue collected on marijuana would go to schools and 20 percent to alcohol, drug and mental health services, while the rest would go to law enforcement.
"Kids are not receiving drug education at schools. Measure 91 would put that in place," Maurer said.
Oregon's measure would permit possession of up to a half-pound of pot for people ages 21 and older. It would allow marijuana to be sold legally in licensed shops. It would also allow for possession of up to four plants.
Oregon decriminalized marijuana in 1973 and legalized medical marijuana in 1998. There are currently fewer than 100 people in prison in Oregon on marijuana-related crimes, though hundreds more have been arrested in marijuana-related offenses.
Colorado and Washington this year became the first U.S. states to allow recreational sales of the substance to adults.