In Multnomah County, possessing marijuana without a medical excuse could get you in trouble. But just across the river, residents are free to toke.
Researchers in the Multnomah County Health Department want to know how Washington State’s legalization of recreational marijuana in 2012 will affect Multnomah County residents.
The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners on Thursday approved the department’s request to pursue a National Institutes of Health grant, worth up to $1.5 million, to study the social and public health impacts of recreational marijuana in Washington State over three years.
It was not an easy sell.
Health Department staff originally requested permission to apply for the grant on May 8, but the board delayed a vote after some commissioners questioned whether Multnomah County should get involved in the issue.
“It sounds a bit political to me,” Commissioner Loretta Smith said during the May 8 meeting.
Commissioner Judy Shiprack said it wasn’t clear that studying marijuana in Washington fell within the county’s public health mission.
“I have real issues with extending the services of Multnomah County, sort of like Don Quixote, in every direction at once,” she said at the time.
Health Department administrator Marc Harris argued that understanding legal marijuana’s impacts in Washington can help Multnomah County leaders anticipate what’s coming if Oregon voters approve recreational marijuana. Advocates of legalizing the drug are already collecting signatures to get a measure on the November ballot.
During Thursday’s meeting to consider the county’s participation in the marijuana study, Harris told board members his team had made changes to their study parameters to “hopefully have a nice impact on local policymaking.”
Smith voted against pursuing the grant, making the vote 4-1.
If Multnomah County wins the grant, Health Department workers will collaborate with other entities in Washington and Oregon to study whether marijuana legalization has led to an increase or decrease in emergency room visits, arrests, traffic accidents, poison center calls and other events impacting public health.
They’ll also study how local governments have responded to the new law by regulating the hours marijuana retailers can operate, the licenses they must obtain, and the places where they can operate, among other restrictions.
Lastly, they’ll look into the economic benefits and drawbacks of legalization.
The research would build off of a study conducted earlier this year to assess the impacts of privatized liquor sales in Washington.
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