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Study says Oregon pot laws are too confusing for police

On Behalf of | Jun 2, 2021 | Drug Crimes |

Criminal offenses should not be confusing, and alleged violations should be clear. But the overwhelming consensus among law enforcement is that Oregon’s criminal law governing marijuana is badly written and confusing, according to a Feb. report issued by Portland State University.


Oregon voters approved Measure 91 in 2014 which legalized recreational marijuana use for individuals who were at least 21. This led to changes to many laws and gave the Oregon Liquor Control Board more power to restrict marijuana production licenses.

Crimes are still prosecuted for six marijuana offenses even the offending amounts changed since 2014. These crimes include driving while impaired, the illegal possession or use of marijuana and the illegal growing, processing or distribution of marijuana.

This survey was conducted in the second half of 2020. It involved 301 law enforcement officers from the Bend and Redmond police departments and the Deschutes County and Klamath County sheriff’s offices.


The survey contained several findings:

  • Over 60 percent of respondents believed it is difficult to determine whether someone committed a marijuana crime because of the state’s marijuana laws.
  • Over 90 percent of survey participants believe that driving under the influence of marijuana increased for adults and juveniles.
  • Over 90 percent of respondents believe that the illegal out of state shipment of marijuana rose over the past three years.
  • Three of out four law enforcement officers, responding to an open-ended survey questions, expressed confusion over these laws.
  • Many officers reported making fewer marijuana arrests and believed that these laws were intentionally drafted for vagueness to deter their enforcement.

Medical marijuana

Police also responded that different medical and recreational cannabis laws complicated enforcement. They spoke about the difficulties of determining whether a person possessed an illegal amount of marijuana or whether it was bought from a licensed retailer. Officers said that the Oregon Health Administration, Department of Agriculture and OLCC who are primarily responsible for regulating cannabis do not cooperate.

A lack of clear understanding complicates roadside stops. These have involved difficulties with determining the authenticity of documentation that a person legally possess large amounts of marijuana, determining whether drivers with large amounts of marijuana are leaving Oregon and concluding whether the product is hemp or marijuana.

Nonetheless, law enforcement agencies are still enforcing criminal marijuana laws. Police are using certified drug recognition experts to determine whether motorists are impaired by marijuana. Attorneys can help assure that rights are protected in these prosecutions.