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July 5th, 2006 Jacques Von Lunen | News Stories
 

Weeding Petitions

Backers of a Portland marijuana initiative say they'll have enough signatures by the July 7 deadline.

     
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Backers of an initiative petition to make adult marijuana offenses the lowest enforcement priority for Portland cops say they'll turn in more than enough signatures by this week's deadline to get the question on the city ballot.

After a final signature-gathering push last weekend by Citizens for a Safer Portland, chief petitioner Chris Iverson said Monday the group has collected about 40,000 signatures. That would be nearly 50 percent more than the 26,961 valid signatures needed to qualify for the November ballot.

City elections officer Susan Francois says initiatives that turned in 20 to 30 percent more signatures than necessary used to be fairly assured of making the ballot. But she says the growing number of petitions in recent years has meant more confusion for signers, who she says are now more likely to have signed the same petition more than once.

Iverson claims his organization has already entered petition signers' names into a spreadsheet to eliminate doubles, and crossed off voters from outside city limits.

"Everyone always says that," Francois says with a laugh.

As for the initiative's intent to move pot enforcement down the police priority list, Portland Police Bureau spokesman Sgt. Brian Schmautz wonders how pot could be any lower of a priority for Portland's cops.

He told WW that marijuana-related arrests "are a fraction of what they were" before the state began handing out medical marijuana cards in May 1999. Local growers and consumers aren't a target, Schmautz says, because "the local drug task forces only look for trafficking organizations."

But while the initiative, if approved, may not have a big effect on Portland's drug enforcement, it would require that the mayor get involved in the national movement to tax and regulate marijuana.

"Tax and regulate" is the central platform of the Marijuana Policy Project, a national nonprofit that supports the local initiative. The project's goal: to establish a state-regulated marijuana trade in which the product is sold in state-run stores and taxed much like alcohol and cigarettes.

The Portland initiative would require the mayor annually to inform state and federal officials elected by Oregonians, including members of Congress and the president, "of the voters' request that the federal and Oregon state governments take immediate steps to legally tax and regulate marijuana use."

Iverson concedes most lawmakers won't jump just because the mayor drops them a line, but he adds, "The intention is that elected officials know that this is taken seriously by Portland voters."

 
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