Will Oregon's New Governor Implement Marijuana Legalization As It Was Approved By Voters?

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(image via usatoday.com)

As of yesterday at 10 am, Oregon has a new Governor. Kate Brown became Oregon's Governor after John Kitzhaber was forced to resign amid a lot of controversy. It was a sad day for Oregon, but from a purely marijuana activist standpoint, I wasn't too sad to see Kitzhaber step down. During the 2014 Election Oregon voters approved Oregon Measure 91, which was very well written and had specific provisions included. For some reason former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber didn't think those provisions mattered, and for that matter the will of Oregon voters didn't matter, because he was seeking to alter the initiative drastically before it was implemented.

John Kitzhaber wanted to merge the medical marijuana program in Oregon with the recreational program, which was something the initiative was very specific about, and stated no less than three times in the initiative that the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program would be unaffected by Measure 91. It's a big provision that resulted in a lot of people voting for the initiative that were on the fence about it. Kitzhaber also wanted to reduce the possession limit in the initiative. I, along with all of the other 'yes' votes, voted for Measure 91 because it allowed certain possession limits.

John Kitzhaber and others at the Oregon capital tried to make it sound like voters approved marijuana legalization in general, and didn't care about the details. That couldn't be further from the truth, proven by the fact that the same Oregon voters rejected a marijuana legalization initiative in 2012 because it was poorly written without possession limits. We didn't vote on marijuana legalization in general, we voted for marijuana legalization because it was a well crafted initiative that had provisions we liked.

So how will Oregon's new Governor approach the marijuana legalization rule making process? Kate Brown is progressive on a lot of things, but there is at least one time in her career that she cracked down hard on marijuana reform, which could provide some insight into how she will view marijuana policy now that she is Governor. During the 2012 Election in Oregon, during which a marijuana legalization initiative made the ballot (Measure 80), there was another, better initiative trying to get on the ballot. Initiative 24 was a campaign that I was helping with. It had solid funding - the same funding source that Oregon's successful medical marijuana initiative from 1998 was built on. The initiative was gathering more signatures than Measure 80, and polled better.

But the second initiative ran into a huge roadblock at a critical juncture of the signature gathering phase of the election. Kate Brown issued by far the largest election fine ever levied by the State of Oregon, which instantly derailed the initiative. Per Oregon Live:

Oregon elections officials slapped a $65,000 fine on the chief petitioner of a marijuana legalization measure, saying he violated the state's constitutional prohibition against paying a bounty for each signature collected.

That's the largest penalty ever issued by the secretary of state's office for violating the requirement that petitioners be paid by the hour. Officials say they are continuing to investigate other possibile (sic) violations by the chief petitioner, Robert Wolfe, and that he could face further fines.

Before Monday's action, the largest penalty issued for a violation of the pay-per-signature ban was $10,900, issued in 2008.

Would Initiative 24 have succeeded on Election Day 2012? I think so, based off of the polling results I saw and the strong campaign team I saw behind the scenes. Obviously we will never know for sure. But I have always had a bad taste in my mouth ever since the campaign was derailed. The day after the 2012 Election, a long time, respected marijuana activist from Oregon pointed out at a meeting that the signature gathering issues that Initiative 24 was fined for were definitely occurring with the Measure 80 campaign, while there was just mere speculation with the Initiative 24 campaign.

Yet Kate Brown chose to go after the initiative that had a better chance of winning, and went after it hard. Why? While there's no way to know for sure, I have always felt that it was a very strategic move by Kate Brown to try to derail marijuana legalization altogether. I feel that Kate Brown purposely targeted the better initiative to derail it, and allowed Oregon Measure 80 to proceed because she knew it wouldn't pass due to being so poorly written and had next to no campaign running to support it. Then other politicians at the capital could point to Oregon Measure 80's failure as a sign that Oregon voters didn't want legalization at all, and then could fail to act, which is exactly what happened.

Fortunately, two years later Oregon voters did pass a marijuana legalization initiative, one that is better than both of the 2012 initiatives. But it still makes me wonder just what type of Governor we are going to see in regards to marijuana policy. Will Kate Brown uphold the will of the voters, and fight to implement Oregon Measure 91 as it was passed? Kate Brown claims all the time that she is her to carry out the voter's will, and now she has the opportunity to back those words up with actions. I truly hope that we don't see her go the Kitzhaber route, and start calling for lower possession limits, a merging of the OMMP with the recreational industry, and who knows what else. That would be a sad day for Oregon, which is a state that has already had enough sad days lately.

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