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This is the age of marijuana reform, but we’re still, realistically, a long way from legalization. Three states-Oregon, Washington and Colorado-are cruising ahead to an election with marijuana legalization initiatives on the ballots, and, depending on what happens, 2013 could be a lot more mellow.
Two of the measures have majority support-57 percent of voters in Washington, and 51 percent of those in Colorado are pro, according to polls in early September-and they’re raising cash by the bucket-load (George Soros, Progressive Insurance chairman Peter Lewis). But Oregon’s pro-legalization movement seems to be at a standstill; roughly 40 percent are for legalization, 40 percent are against it, and a whopping 20 percent of voters are still undecided. What’s worse, the AP reported last week that the campaign only has $1,800 left in the bank. Legalization might happen, but it’s looking like Oregon might not be the game-changer.
The lack of steam may be, as the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act’s author, top contributor, and chief petitioner Paul Stanford says, because the other two states had measures drafted by large organizations who already had deep pockets attached. Or it might, as Allen St. Pierre, the director of NORML has claimed, be related to Stanford’s business reputation-bankruptcies in the 1990s, accusations from investors of non-payment, recent tax settlements-which makes big donors see him as untrustworthy. Or it could be that, despite its reputation as a pot-friendly state, Oregon voters are simply not ready.
And it might all just be a moot point. Even if the measures do go through, federal regulations aren’t going to change, and the DEA isn’t likely to ignore its powers over state law; since Obama took office, there have been over 200 raids of legitimate marijuana businesses.
But Oregon isn’t just trying to sneak the legalization in the back door: Stanford, a long-time hemp and medical marijuana advocate, has been drafting this measure since 1988, and has come up with one of the most progressive laws, and some lofty economic ambitions: bring the state $140 million a year in tax revenue, save it $61.5 million in law enforcement costs, and maybe end the US reliance on foreign oil to boot. But things that make Oregon’s measure unique-industrial hemp of all sorts left to unlicensed farmers, being written with the explicit intent of federal appeal-might also prevent it from getting as far as the others. “It would completely change the whole paradigm,” says Stanford.
1. It’s the only one to set up its own governing board.
The initiatives on the ballot in Colorado and Washington give existing boards the authority to regulate marijuana (the Department of Revenue and the State Liquor Authority, respectively). But Stanford’s proposal would establish an entirely new body, the Oregon Cannabis Commission (OCC), to oversee the legalization process. The first group of seven individuals, appointed by Governor John Kitzhaber (a Democrat who opposes the bill), would have two months after being appointed, until February 28, to establish some basic guidelines-like wholesale prices and THC testing practices-and begin issuing licenses to growers, processors and retailers. These seven people, presumably already involved in the Oregon cannabis industry, would have a term of one year. After that, the license holders would elect five representatives to a one-year term, and the governor would appoint two for a term of two years.
“I think this is pretty laughable,” says Kevin Sabet, director of the University of Florida’s Drug Policy Institute, and vocal opponent of all three legalization measures. “The idea that you’re going to have this run by people with a vested interest, people who grow and produce marijuana, is pretty interesting.”
However, as Stanford points out, this kind of board is not uncommon. In drafting this section of the act, he was hesitant give control of the process to the liquor control board, after his research showed that 15 percent of Oregonians had a negative opinion of the board, and were therefore less likely to support a measure in which they were given so much additional authority. He decided to look elsewhere for a model.
When you look at other government commissions, Stanford explains, this is the norm. “The board of pharmacy requires that pharmacists make up the commissioners; the medical board requires that physicians be the ones to govern the medical board; and in Oregon, we have a number of agricultural commissions, and the law is that 70 percent of the makeup of those commissions have to be people in the industry.”
Instead of career politicians or misinformed members of the public, it could be people who know and understand the different chemical compounds found in marijuana, the effects they have, and the danger they could present.