September 3, 2013

The Oregonian To Legislature: Refer Marijuana Legalization To Voters

September 3, 2013
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Oregon marijuana policyThe Oregonian, the state’s largest newspaper, called for legislators in Salem to work with New Approach Oregon’s Anthony Johnson to craft a marijuana legalization measure for referral to the voters in 2014.  This marks the second time the newspaper has chided lawmakers for failing to take the opportunity to shape legalization in Oregon.

The editorial board noted the release of a new memo from the Justice Department outlining federal priorities for marijuana enforcement, specifically that the federal government would not interfere in the states of Colorado and Washington as they roll out their legalization measures.  The Oregonian praises the power of the citizen initiative process to enact change where lawmakers are hesitant to act; however, they also wish to see a responsible, well-drafted legalization measure they feel would best be vetted through the legislature.  In the editorial board’s reckoning, the best means to that end is working with Anthony Johnson.

Johnson, a former chief petitioner for a previous dispensary initiative and recent lobbyist who fought for House Bill 3371, this session’s attempt at exactly what The Oregonian proposes, is the head of New Approach Oregon, a fledgling lobbying group dedicated to passing marijuana legalization in the state of Oregon.  The Oregonian writes:

Lawmakers can place a legalization proposal of their own on next year’s ballot. Anthony Johnson of New Approach Oregon, who recently worked with a handful of lawmakers on a failed legalization bill, says he’d like to try again during the February 2014 session. Should such an effort fail, he says, he’s prepared to gather signatures for a legalization initiative, which could have company on the ballot. Paul Stanford, who sponsored last year’s terribly flawed Measure 80, is revving up the initiative machine for another try.

The Legislature should work with Johnson. As long as Oregonians are going to vote on the issue, why not let them choose a legalization proposal that’s withstood the rigors of the legislative process? Oregon’s elected lawmakers may not approve of legalization, and they may dislike the citizen initiative thoroughly. Nonetheless, they will soon have a chance to shape the inevitable, and they should take it.

Johnson and New Approach Oregon are planning to run an initiative in 2014 with the backing of numerous funders including the Drug Policy Alliance, but a legislative referral would be a better option.  With an initiative, thousands of dollars and months of time must be spent just bringing the measure to the voters.  By going through the legislature, just a majority of ninety lawmakers need to be convinced to send a measure to the voters, and the time and money can be spent on campaigning for the measure and educating the public.


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