- Associated Press - Monday, October 12, 2015

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers.

Albany Democrat-Herald, Oct. 5, on the conflicting nature of Oregon and federal pot laws:

The private recreational use of marijuana by adults in Oregon has been legal for months, and last week, you could start buying recreational marijuana at medical dispensaries that elected to join in on early sales of pot. (Well, at least in those jurisdictions that allowed those early sales.)

But Oregon’s grand experiment with legalized marijuana won’t have any effect on the state’s colleges and universities, including Oregon State University.

College administrators last week emphasized that nothing has changed on campuses, even as people lined up at dispensaries to buy recreational marijuana.

That hard line for higher education makes sense, especially at universities like OSU that attract millions of dollars of federal funding for research. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and no university is going to jeopardize one penny of its federal funding by rolling back its regulations on pot. (Besides, OSU’s campus is smoke-free, and that presumably includes marijuana smoke.)

But this does underline the continuing silliness of the federal government’s hard-line stance against marijuana. The feds still continue to regard marijuana as a Schedule I substance, the category reserved in part for drugs that have no currently accepted medical use, a designation that will surprise the thousands of Oregonians who use medicinal pot. (The state of Oregon, by the way, moved marijuana off the Schedule I list back in 2010, but that doesn’t carry any water with the federal government.)

That hard-line federal stance explains why OSU also bans its researchers from doing any sort of work that physically involves marijuana. The university’s policy is reasonably clear on this point: It prohibits research that “involves the possession, use or distribution of marijuana,” unless that research complies with guidelines established by federal agencies - and we already know what the feds think about marijuana.

This, too, seems silly, and it gets sillier: The ban also prohibits OSU faculty members from performing research involving industrial hemp.

There’s plenty of interest nationwide and in Oregon in growing industrial hemp, which has negligible amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana. The fiber from industrial hemp can be used in paper, clothing, rope and for a variety of other uses. The United States is the world’s largest consumer of hemp, but it still is listed as a Schedule I controlled substance, which is ludicrous.

Considering the potential industrial hemp offers to Oregon farmers, it would make sense for OSU researchers to wade right in and work on the crop. But until the federal government rolls back its stance on hemp, you won’t see that happen on campus. (The potential of hemp as an agricultural commodity, by the way, is one of the very few issues on which U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Rand Paul agree.)

As states move ahead on their own regarding legalizing marijuana, the federal government’s stance on the drug increasingly seems like an outlier. In the case of the prohibition against industrial hemp, another word again comes into mind: It’s just silly. The feds should get out of the way, and that process starts by decriminalizing hemp.

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The (Corvallis) Gazette-Times, Oct. 6, on the benefits of fifth-year programs for students:

The clock could be ticking for the innovative fifth-year programs offered by some mid-valley school districts, and that’s a shame, especially since at least one of the proposals being touted as a replacement is missing a critical ingredient.

These fifth-year programs allow high school students who have completed all the requirements for a diploma to put off graduation for a year or more and instead attend a community college. Tuition and books are paid for by state school funds because the student still is considered part of his or her home district.

That’s the rub: Some lawmakers have complained about the arrangement, saying money meant for school districts shouldn’t be stretched to cover higher education. They also point out, with some justification, that the price tag to run these fifth-year programs throughout the state would be huge.

State Sen. Sara Gelser, who represents the mid-valley in the Legislature, was able to derail efforts in this year’s legislative session to phase out the programs. But Gelser pledged to form a work group on the programs and report back to the Legislature at its February session.

To our eyes, Gelser is fighting an uphill battle. Chances seem good that the Legislature will pull the plug on the fifth-year programs and keep its eyes on a program it passed this session that offers free tuition to some community college students.

That program, dubbed the “Oregon Promise” by supporters such as state Sen. Mark Hass, will give the aid to somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 Oregonians beginning in the fall of 2016. (Hass, by the way, was one of the forces behind the effort to phase out the fifth-year programs.)

The estimated cost of the free tuition program is set at $10 million a year. (Gelser said the cost of the fifth-year programs also is estimated at about $10 million a year, but she told a reporter that the figure could be high.)

The Oregon Promise program is set up to encourage community college students to continue working toward completion of their studies, whether that end point is certification or an associate degree or a transfer to a four-year college. That’s important, seeing how community colleges throughout the state increasingly are emphasizing the idea of shepherding students toward completing their courses of study.

But here’s where the fifth-year programs have a clear-cut advantage over the Oregon Promise program: The fifth-year programs don’t offer just the free tuition. They also offer counseling services to their participants, and those services can be critically important. Many of the students in the fifth-year programs are the first in their families to attend college, and there’s little doubt that assistance from the counselors is particularly valuable to them.

Already, the fifth-year programs are showing promising results, which leads us to make a modest suggestion to legislators when they meet in February: Keep funding the Oregon Promise program. But find some money to continue offering the fifth-year programs on a trial basis. Track the results. Let’s see which program is most effective at generating graduates from the state’s community colleges.

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The Oregonian, Oct. 8, on Oregon’s thousands of untested rape kits:

It’s always tricky to calculate the costs of inaction. But Oregon State Police Superintendent Richard Evans Jr. was able to give legislators last week some rudimentary dimensions on the challenge ahead for his agency in its pledge to work through a decades-long stockpile of untested sex-assault evidence kits.

Among the points he shared: There are 5,652 untested evidence kits in the possession of local law enforcement agencies throughout the state. The oldest kits date back more than three decades to 1983. At least 1,100 kits are more than 12 years old, according to a report by The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Maxine Bernstein.

Then there are the unquantifiable costs. Victims, many of whom saw their kits and cases fall into a black hole of inattention, have felt alone and forgotten, said Michele Roland-Schwartz, executive director of the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force. The message stemming from law enforcement’s years of neglect has been that offenders can get away with their crimes, she told The Oregonian/OregonLive editorial board. Evans himself acknowledged to legislators that there’s a perception out there that “law enforcement wasn’t doing its job for victims.”

Certainly, some offenders have gotten away with their crimes. Although an untested kit does not equate to an unsolved case, it does mean that no one ever looked at the DNA in these cases to compare it with DNA from other assaults. Already, cities that have started working through their inventory of untested kits are finding a single offender tied to multiple cases. Detroit, for example, has identified a suspected 549 serial offenders from its testing. That kind of information can provide support for victims’ accounts and help take a serial offender off the streets. That is, if the kit is actually tested.

Credit national attention as well as state legislators and law enforcement agencies, finally, for acknowledging that current protocol needs to change - and be written down. In Evans’ testimony, he laid out a road map for how the state plans to improve, sharing some of the recommendations that a work group of law enforcement and sexual-assault advocates are developing for handling sex-assault kit testing in the future. Most significantly, Evans said that starting Jan. 1, local law enforcement agencies will be urged to submit kits within 14 days of receiving them, replacing the unwritten policies and unknown criteria that some agencies relied on previously.

The work group also plans to develop a form for agencies to fill out that will help the Oregon State Police lab “triage” which cases need immediate attention - for instance an unidentified attacker’s assault on a juvenile - versus others that can wait. The work group is also recommending that kits from victims who are not ready to proceed with a police investigation be held for 12 years, matching the statute of limitations for rape. Those kits - like about 750 in the current inventory - won’t be tested until the victim is ready to go forward, a key protection for those victims supported by advocates, including Roland-Schwartz, who is a member of the work group.

Other issues remain, including how to provide notification and support for victims who may be retraumatized by having their assault investigation reopened, said Roland-Schwarz. And Evans said he does not know just what kind of strain the new 14-day policy will put on his agency, adding that he will report back to legislators.

A commitment to report regularly to legislators is, in fact, not a bad idea. After all, the concept that all kits should be tested is not new - Portland Police acknowledged the need for widespread testing more than a decade ago after the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl by a man who was linked, belatedly, to at least two earlier assaults. But follow-through seems to be a perennial problem. An annual report on progress, problems and compliance by local law enforcement agencies may be the best way to show that, finally, this is a lesson learned.

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The (Bend) Bulletin, Oct. 11, on controlling an invasive plant:

Cheatgrass has been called the invader that won the West, and that’s not far off the mark. The annual grass covers nearly 12 million acres in Oregon alone, and can be found across the western United States and Canada, and as far north as Alaska.

That causes problems.

Cheat, an invasive plant that most likely arrived here from Asia via Europe, chokes out native plants. It blooms and dies early, leaving in its wake a tangled mat that makes range fires in these parts far worse than they otherwise would be. In a time of drought, that’s especially troublesom. Moreover, after it’s fueled a fire it chokes out native plants trying to re-establish themselves.

Its effects don’t stop there. Any desert hiker can tell you what it’s like to come home with socks full of cheatgrass, just as many dog owners have tales of trips to the veterinarian to have cheat removed from ears and noses. Cattle and horses, too, have problems with cheatgrass.

Now comes word that a scientist with the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture may have found a way to finally begin to bring cheatgrass under control.

Ann Kennedy, a soil scientist, has teamed up with students from Washington State University and tested some 25,000 bacteria taken from nearby fields. Her goal was to find those that hinder the growth of cheat but do not hurt the growth of wheat.

She’s done just that. In fact, her bacteria not only reduce the amount of cheatgrass by half with a single application, they’re also useful against two other invasive plants, medusahead and jointed goatgrass. At least one of her bacteria strains is likely to be ready for commercial sale in fall 2016.

Kennedy’s bacteria won’t be the sole answer to the West’s cheatgrass infestation, of course - with something like 100 million acres of cheat infestation in the West, nothing is - but it’s a big step in the right direction. That’s good for the High Desert, good for sage grouse, good for all sorts of things.

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The (Medford) Mail-Tribune, Oct. 11, on President Obama’s response to the Roseburg killings:

President Barack Obama set just the right tone on Friday in brief remarks after meeting with the families of those killed in the Umpqua Community College shooting. We wish we could say the same of those who declared the president unwelcome in their town.

Many in the Roseburg area were angered by Obama’s statement on the day of the shootings when he said he would be accused of politicizing the incident to call for stricter gun laws.

“Well, this is something we should politicize,” he said on Oct. 1. “It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic.”

Obama had already scheduled a four-day trip to the West Coast when the shootings occurred. It was an obvious choice to add a stop in Roseburg to meet privately with the families of the victims, an appropriate gesture by the president of the United States in response to a tragedy of this magnitude.

As soon as the president’s visit was announced, some Roseburg-area residents, among them the publisher of a conservative weekly newspaper, declared he was not welcome. The publisher said Obama was coming to “stand on the corpses of our loved ones.”

That’s not just inappropriate. It’s offensive.

In response, Roseburg’s mayor, City Council and county commissioners issued a statement welcoming Obama and pledging to “extend him every courtesy.” That they felt compelled to do that is, frankly, embarrassing.

Obama arrived on Friday as planned, where he was met by demonstrators, some carrying firearms.

Peaceful demonstrations of political opinion are an American tradition, and demonstrators are common during presidential visits. When President George W. Bush visited Medford during his 2004 re-election campaign, he was greeted by demonstrators, too. But we don’t recall anyone announcing in advance that he was not welcome here.

On Friday, Obama held no public event and delivered no speech. He made no pronouncements about gun control.

“I want to thank the entire community and the entire state of Oregon for coming together at this terrible time to support the families,” Obama said in brief remarks after meeting with the victims’ families. “Obviously, in moments like these, words aren’t going to bring their loved ones back. But the one thing that they shared is how much they appreciate the entire UCC community coming together, how much they appreciate all their neighbors, all their friends and people all across the country who offered to help, who sent their thoughts and their prayers.”

And he said this:

“I’ve got some very strong feelings about this, because when you talk to these families you’re reminded that this could be happening to your child, or your mom, or your dad, or your relative or your friend,” Obama said. “We’re going to have to come together as a country to see how we can prevent these issues from taking place, but today it’s about the families and their grief and the love we feel for them.”

That doesn’t sound like grandstanding or exploiting a tragedy.

Demonstrators, however, spoke of their belief that Obama wants to confiscate guns from law-abiding citizens - something he has never advocated - one saying he had come to Roseburg with a “gun-grabbing agenda.”

The protesters are certainly free to exercise their First Amendment rights, which they did. It would have been nice if they had had exercised some respect and dignity in a somber moment, but they didn’t.

Obama didn’t use his visit to politicize the shootings. The protesters did.


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