Source: Carisa Cegavske [email protected]

Marijuana should be legalized and taxed to help fund education, said Democratic Oregon House candidate Natasha Bjornsen, whose position received a tepid response Monday at a Roseburg Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Her opponent in the Democratic primary, Kerry Atherton, and Republican candidates Dallas Heard and Mark Garcia also spoke at the forum for District 2 candidates. The incumbent, Roseburg Republican Tim Freeman, is giving up the seat to run for Douglas County commissioner.

Bjornsen sparked the liveliest debate at the forum, which was held at the Douglas County Fairgrounds. She suggested Oregon could learn from Amsterdam’s experience with marijuana. She said marijuana use there did not increase after legalization and remains less than in Oregon.

Bjornsen, 29, of Myrtle Creek said she also supports medical marijuana dispensaries.

“I would like to see the dispensaries,” Bjornsen said. “It’s another job here in Douglas County.”

Atherton, 64, of Roseburg did not directly address marijuana legalization at the forum, but said in an interview that he favors it.

“I’m for marijuana legalization simply because it’s ridiculous to say ‘no’ to marijuana when you’re saying ‘yes’ to alcohol, which is so much worse,” he said.

He said he supports medical marijuana dispensaries.

“It is medicine. I don’t care what your own personal beliefs are. It’s medicine. And to make it tough to find your medicine is just cruel and unusual,” Atherton said.

He called one-year moratoriums on medical marijuana dispensaries “nothing more than a dodge from our elected officials so they don’t have to make a decision right now.”

Both Republicans flatly rejected marijuana legalization.

Garcia, 48, of Myrtle Creek said marijuana is a gateway drug and medical marijuana is being abused.

“If the people of Oregon legalize marijuana, I will respect their wishes, but I will certainly vote against it,” he said.

Heard, 29, of Myrtle Creek said raising education funds through legalizing drugs would contribute to a growing “drug culture” and the erosion of family values.

“I disagree that we need a drug to help fund the state. I feel like if that’s why we legalize stuff that’s getting pretty sad. That means either the state is spending way too much money, or they’re not letting us use our natural resources and get to work. In this case, it’s both in my opinion,” Heard said.

Bjornsen backed away from her earlier opposition to the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline, which would transport liquefied natural gas through Douglas County to Coos Bay for overseas export.

She said she wants to see the results of an environmental impact study before she gives “a solid yes or no.”

Atherton said in an interview he opposes the pipeline because he believes for-profit companies should not be able to use eminent domain to obtain right of way.

Garcia and Heard said they support the pipeline.

Bjornsen said conservation and timber interests should be balanced, while Garcia said no one takes better care of forest lands than timber operators.

“Most of them are generational. They intend to be here for the long haul. They’ve got kids growing up that intend to take over the businesses, so they care about having forests to log in the future,” Garcia said.

Atherton said he hopes timber harvests will double or triple on federal forest lands, but said the timber industry can’t provide a long-term solution for the county’s economic woes.

“ Timber is not the future of Douglas County,” Atherton said. “Even if we triple the yield, we’re never going to get back to the glory days. We’re never going to go back to where it was a billion board feet a year. So we need to come up with a Plan B, and that’s what I’m all about is finding that Plan B.”

Atherton said he would seek state funding for local committees that would seek solutions to the county’s economic woes.

Heard said he believes timber harvests should be restored.

“We did it before. Why can’t we do it now?” Heard said. “We need to quit letting people tell us we can’t get the job done for ourselves.”

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• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or [email protected]