Marijuana-Related Jury Instructions under Construction

By Dean Land, Attorney Editor

At first glance, Oregon’s new marijuana laws seem simple—recreational marijuana is now legal. But a more in-depth look reveals some very complex legislation. Together, Ballot Measure 91 (2014) and House Bill 3400 (2015) take up 99 pages in Oregon Laws.

The legislation’s effect on the jury instructions is something that the Uniform Criminal Jury Instructions Committee is still working to untangle. For example, ORS 475.864 (2013), which criminalized the possession of a certain amount of marijuana, was not simply repealed. Instead, the new version of the statute criminalizes possession of marijuana under certain circumstances, based on criteria including the age of the possessor, the location of the possession, and the amount and form of the marijuana. Furthermore, the statute does not apply to licensed growers, processors, and sellers “acting in accordance with” Measure 91. ORS 475.864(6) (2015). This raises questions. Does a district attorney who charges unlawful possession of marijuana have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in accordance with Measure 91? Or is acting in accordance with Measure 91 an affirmative defense? And perhaps most perplexing of all, how should that element of the crime be phrased for the jury?

These are among the many questions confronting the committee as it works to update the instructions for marijuana crimes. Although the committee was unable to revise these instructions in time for the 2015 UCrJI Supplement, it alerted practitioners to the issue by adding notes to the potentially affected instructions. The committee expects to have revised marijuana-crime instructions ready for the 2016 Supplement. In the meantime, judges, defense attorneys, and prosecutors are encouraged to contact committee members with any suggestions.

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