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Law might have protected woman who called for help in Sunriver marijuana gummies case
A proposed law that would grant immunity to people who seek medical help for someone having an adverse reaction to drugs likely would have applied in the case of a Seattle woman who was cited for marijuana possession in Sunriver after her friend had a bad reaction to marijuana gummies this week.
A 51-year-old woman gave her 37-year-old friend berry-shaped candies that were infused with marijuana. The woman knowingly ate the candies, then had an adverse reaction after eating three. Both women were from Washington, where pot is legal for recreational consumption.
The older woman called 911 early Monday from Sunriver Resort and was subsequently charged with possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. A bill filed in the Oregon Legislature by Portland Rep. Jennifer Williamson likely would have protected the woman from charges.
“We want to take all the barriers away from somebody seeking medical help who is in trouble and actively overdosing,” she said.
The immunity law would apply in cases in which the person who called for help possessed illegal drugs, whether pot or a highly addictive opiate. The immunity would apply in cases where the person who called was on parole or probation.
A similar law protecting underage drinkers who seek help took effect in Oregon on Jan. 1.
“This is, I think, the natural outgrowth of that. Especially (when) marijuana becomes legal, because we’ll have underagers using marijuana as well,” Williamson said.
Sunriver Police Chief Marc Mills told The Bulletin his department used discretion when deciding to cite the 51-year-old woman.
Police could have cited the younger woman with possession as well but decided not to, Mills said.
He said he supports Williamson’s idea, but, “The law is currently the law. Nobody is telling us to ignore it. As long as the law is in place, we will enforce it.”
Mills said he wasn’t seeking the attention the case has gathered, but he does welcome the conversations that are occurring before possession of an ounce in public and a half-pound at home becomes legal July 1 in Oregon.
Oregon’s rural and urban communities are split on how to approach marijuana until then. The Bulletin found four district attorneys would drop all pending and future marijuana-related cases. Eleven said they’d continue to enforce. Many said prosecuting pot wasn’t a top priority.
Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel said he’d address it on a case-by-case basis, joining seven other district attorneys. This case will likely come across Hummel’s desk next week, he said.
Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, pointed to the incident when she promised a cautious approach to marijuana-infused edibles, which will become legal under the law passed in November.
Burdick will co-chair the Joint Committee on Ballot Measure 91 Implementation when lawmakers convene Feb. 2. She said Thursday she wasn’t willing to allow edibles to become legal until lawmakers tinker with packaging and labeling requirements in the law to avoid incidents similar to the one in Sunriver and to keep them out of kids’ mouths.
“On the other side of the equation, there are people who rely on medical marijuana who can’t smoke or don’t want to smoke who need some form of edible form,” Burdick said.
Burdick said she hadn’t read Williamson’s bill but said the concept sounded like one she would support.
As committee co-chair, Burdick will be one of the most influential lawmakers this session regarding the new marijuana law.
— Reporter: 406-589-4347,
By Jeff Kruse and Jennifer Williamson
For The Register-Guard
Americans may have heard more about grand juries in the last 30 days than in the last 30 years.
In the wake of the recent Michael Brown and Eric Garner decisions, we’ve been reminded by the media that grand jury proceedings are secret — unless a judge orders that a transcript of the testimony be made public.
We’ve been told that grand juries determine whether criminal charges, often subject to mandatory minimum sentences, should be brought against an accused person.
But here’s something that many Oregonians may not know: We are one of only three states in the nation that still rely on handwritten notes created by a grand juror instead of a verbatim recording of the grand jury proceedings.
Transparency in government is the Oregon way. We record and stream online every committee hearing of the Oregon Legislature. Every word uttered on the floor of the Oregon House and Senate is recorded for any citizen to review. Similarly, our courtrooms have recording devices, cameras and/or stenographers to document everything that happens in each and every trial. Our criminal statutes require mutual pretrial exchange of discovery between the accused and the state of each parties’ evidence and witnesses.
We should be proud of all that. But when it comes to accuracy and transparency in grand jury proceedings, Oregon is failing.
We still rely on nonverbatim handwritten “minutes” of grand jury sworn testimony taken by one of the jurors. These notes can be inaccurate, incomplete, hard to read or just plain wrong. Then if a witness’s testimony before the grand jury is called into question, a former grand juror must be hauled back into court to read the notes, often resulting in a delay in the proceedings and an inexact account of what actually was said under oath.
We’ve all been reminded in the last few weeks that grand juries have a lot of power.
The lack of accurate record-keeping and verbatim recordings of grand juries means that we risk distrust in our criminal justice system and further erosion of public confidence in the grand jury system right here in Oregon.
Without an ability for the parties — and, when appropriate, the public — to see an accurate record of grand jury proceedings, high-profile controversial cases can become more highly charged.
The Legislature has a responsibility to solve this problem. That’s why we are introducing a bill in this year’s legislative session to update Oregon’s criminal statutes to align with the federal system and most other states by mandating a verbatim record of all grand jury proceedings.
This simple but important change will allow us to protect citizens’ rights and increase trust in our criminal justice system. Mandating verbatim recordings of grand juries is the national norm for a reason: It guards against abuse and ensures that the rights of the accused and crime victims are fully protected. Liberals and conservatives can agree that we all lose when we allow government to exercise its power in secrecy, with no transparency, oversight or accountability.
The confidentiality of grand juries will always be protected, and Oregon will still require a judicial order to release verbatim recordings under special circumstances. But secrecy is not — and never should be — a cloak for abuse of power. The secrecy of grand juries exists to protect defendants, witnesses, victims and the accused, whose innocence must be presumed until guilt is established. Secrecy is not an excuse for inaccuracy or incomplete records. Secrecy does not exist to provide a shield from accountability.
Inaccuracy in recording the sworn testimony of grand jury witnesses leads to distrust in our criminal justice proceedings, fosters an environment for abuse, and could lead to unjust prosecutions or failure to bring guilty offenders to justice. Oregonians deserve better than that. That’s why we need to update our law.
Source: The Register Guard
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Sept. 18, 2013 — The Oregon Health Authority has laid out the timetable to legislators for the closure of the Blue Mountain Recovery Center, even as Pendleton lawmakers strive to keep Eastern Oregon’s mental hospital open.
“The train’s already left the station,” Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, told The Lund Report. “We got to find the sidetrack somehow.”
Blue Mountain is set to stop taking patients next month and close for good Dec. 31. The hospital has a long track record, opening in 1948.
Pamela Martin, the director of the Addictions and Mental Health Division, said half of Blue Mountain’s 60 patients will be ready for discharge, but any civilly committed patients who need further treatment will be transferred to two mothballed 26-bed wings in the new Oregon State Hospital in Salem.
Those hospital wings are scheduled to open in November, with patients transferred over the following month. They were built the same time as the new hospital but have sat empty for lack of funding in the previous budget.
After Blue Mountain stops taking patients, new civilly committed patients will be sent to either Salem or the Oregon State Hospital in Portland, but there is already a waiting list to get into state psychiatric hospitals. The Legislature has budgeted money for a new hospital in Junction City, near Eugene, but it won’t open until 2015 at the earliest.
At Wednesday’s meeting of the full Joint Committee on Ways & Means, lawmakers accepted Martin’s report, but talk stirred of potentially keeping the hospital open and staffed until next spring so it could be turned into a geriatric hospital for the Department of Corrections.
The prison hospital idea was pitched by Rep. Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland, who said it would be wise to keep the facility in place with its skilled workforce because the Department of Corrections needs to increase hospital capacity with an aging population, driven by mandatory prison sentences.
Her idea was immediately grasped by Jenson and his Pendleton Senate counterpart, Sen. Bill Hansell, as well as Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem:
“It’s a piece of the puzzle that needs to be worked on to come to fruition,” Winters said.
If the hospital closes, Jenson and Hansell are concerned that the professional staff, particularly the nurses, would be cut to the wind and leave Eastern Oregon. Recruiting newcomers to move to Pendleton could be difficult with the state suffering a nursing shortage. Jenson reminded his colleagues that even the Oregon State Hospital in Salem has had trouble filling all its positions with qualified applicants. “If we lose the workforce, we’re going to have to restart,” said Hansell, who also learned that most workers would prefer to remain in Pendleton, according to the Service Employees International Union.
In place of Blue Mountain Hospital, three new residential mental health facilities, each with five beds, are being built in Pendleton. One will serve as an acute crisis unit while the other two will act as transitional residential treatment homes, one for adolescents and the other for adults.
“Every effort will be made to place people from Eastern Oregon in those two facilities,” Martin told legislators.
Some Blue Mountain employees will find work in the new units, but with only 15 beds and less intensive care, the new residential treatment units will only employ a fraction of the people if the hospital closes. Others could find work in Salem. And some of the staff has already left voluntarily, requiring the state to hire temporary employees.
“One of the major barriers is the physical quality of the [Pendleton] hospital,” said Martin, who toured the 65-year-old facility after assuming her leadership position in May. “It’s outlived its natural life span.”
Martin said that it costs about $1 million a month to operate Blue Mountain, but the two new mothballed units in Salem will cost only $700,000 a month to run, she added, comparing them to empty floors of a hotel.
If Blue Mountain Hospital were renovated, it would cost an estimated $11 million, and it’s uncertain if the hospital has significant asbestos insulation or lead pipes, which would increase costs exponentially.
Jenson rebuffed the asbestos concern, noting that most of the facilities have undergone substantial renovations in the past 25 years. “If there’s a lot of asbestos in the building for these patients, maybe we have a good class-action lawsuit waiting for us,” Jenson quipped. Before it was razed, the state had been fined by the federal government previously for asbestos in the old Salem state mental hospital.
Martin expects to report back to legislators with detailed information about the impacts of the closure on Pendleton, as well as the potential for its reuse as a prison hospital. But that could be too late to delay closure of Blue Mountain Hospital. Lawmakers may not be back in Salem until nearly Thanksgiving, just weeks before the last patients are moved across the Cascades.
Source: The Lund Report