Most Americans live in states where marijuana is legal, either for recreational use or only for medical purposes. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden is refreshingly candid about whether Congress will eventually follow the lead of those 33 states.
"It is just a matter of time of time before we get this passed," he told the Register-Guard editorial board in a far-ranging discussion last week. "It's not a question of 'if' but 'when?'"
The problem is that "when" is unlikely to arrive soon. A strong pro-legalization vote in the Democrat-controlled House could add pressure on the Senate. But Republican senators, who hold the majority in that chamber, are not as open to marijuana legalization as they were to non-psychoactive hemp.
It took Wyden years to win Senate support for hemp, which has a long history in America and predominantly is grown for industrial purposes.
Wyden again introduced federal legislation this month — a Senate bill aptly titled S. 420 — that would decriminalize marijuana and allow it to be regulated and taxed like alcohol. Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer is sponsoring similar legislation, H.R. 420, in the U.S. House.
Last year, Democrat Wyden teamed with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to pass legislation that legalized hemp production, allowed hemp researchers to get federal grants and opened the door for hemp growers to use conventional banking practices.
The two senators recently wrote to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, urging him to expeditiously implement the hemp legislation. Hundreds of Oregon hemp farmers will benefit.
Meanwhile, Congress and the federal government still officially consider marijuana to be as dangerous as heroin, a notion that has been disproved for decades. As a consequence, marijuana businesses that are legal under Oregon law have difficulty obtaining regular banking and other financial services.
On other topics:
Wyden continues to lobby the Federal Communications Commission for a three-digit phone number — similar to 911 for police, fire and medical emergencies — to provide suicide prevention and mental health support.
It is an excellent idea but only if the number immediately connects the caller with a mental health and suicide-prevention counselor, instead of merely being a referral service.
Lane County will benefit if Wyden and Republican Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho can make permanent the Secure Rural Schools program. Although often teetering on its last political legs, the money has helped offset the loss of timber revenue for rural counties, especially in Western Oregon.
Funding alone will not solve Oregon's dismal high school graduation rate. We think congressional intervention seems necessary. We would like to see Wyden and Congress tie funding to the importance of such benchmarks as third-grade reading levels.
Wyden deserves credit for helping write and win congressional approval of massive legislation that protects a number of wild lands and rivers in Oregon and other states. As with much of his work, it was a bipartisan endeavor.
Next up should be added protections for Oregon's Rogue River.
Unlike too many of his Senate colleagues, Wyden is not running for president. Kudos to him for staying focused on Oregon, including holding town halls in all 36 counties each year.
-- The Register-Guard