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November 17th, 2010 Jason Slotkin | News Stories
 

Weed: The Next Chapter

What’s next for medical-pot reform in Oregon?

     
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Oregon voters’ defeat this month of a measure that would have expanded the state’s medical marijuana system is forcing supporters of that proposal to figure out new strategies.

Measure 74 co-authors John Sajo and Anthony Johnson say they have two options after 56 percent of Oregonians voted against their measure. The initiative would have set up a system of nonprofit dispensaries for the 36,000-plus licensed patients who must currently grow their own pot or get a friend to do it.

One option is the 2011 Legislature, though that looks tough for pot proponents given Republicans’ gains in the recent election. The other is a return to the state ballot in 2012, when electoral trends might be more favorable than in 2010.

In the Legislature, Rep. Peter Buckley (D-Ashland) has started talking about introducing a legislative version of Measure 74 that would set up a system of regulated medical marijuana dispensaries in addition to the current system.

Before the election, Buckley said he would introduce a bill to go even further by legalizing marijuana in Oregon. But he now says California voters’ defeat of a legalization initiative there—and Oregon voters’ rejection of Measure 74—has prompted him to gear his marijuana legislative efforts instead toward a dispensary system.

The election also upended things for Buckley’s party. Next year’s Legislature will go from a 36-24 Democratic advantage in the House to an even split between Democrats and Republicans. And the Democrats’ 18-12 edge in the Senate will erode to 16-14. Buckley acknowledges those changes mean any marijuana bill would struggle.

“The budget is such a huge priority for the state,” says Buckley. “This couldn’t be a first priority.”

There’s a second option, according to Johnson and Sajo. And that’s the 2012 election, when a new version of Measure 74 could reap the benefit of more young voters because it’s a larger-turnout presidential election year.

“Measure 74 helped in moving cannabis into the political mainstream,” says Johnson.

Johnson says Measure 74 could be tweaked, or if he gets his way, Oregon voters could be asked for a straight vote on marijuana legalization.

Even though California voters rejected legalization in this election, Johnson believes legalization has a chance in Oregon in 2012 because Gallup polls show marijuana initiatives poll higher among young voters, who are more likely to skip midterm elections.

The place to start any marijuana ballot measure in 2012 will be in Multnomah County, Oregon’s largest county and one of just two in the state to have a majority “yes” vote on Measure 74. Besides the 58.9 percent “yes” vote in Multnomah County, the only other county among Oregon’s 36 counties to have a majority yes vote (with barely above 50 percent) on Measure 74 was Lane County, home to Eugene and the University of Oregon.

A 2012 legalization initiative would not be a first for Oregon. In 1986, voters rejected a legalization measure. And an attempt this year to put a similar measure on the ballot fell short of the required number of signatures.

Sajo acknowledges voter approval of legalization could be an “uphill” battle even in a high-turnout presidential year.

“It’s much harder to get a ‘yes’ than a ‘no’ vote,” he says.

 
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