Will the public’s apparent support of marijuana legalization translate into legalization in the fall? And how does Oregon’s proposed law compare to Colorado’s?
“I don’t use marijuana,” says 80-year-old Margie Harris, a retired teacher living in Oregon, “but as a teacher of 36 years, I can tell you lots of other people use it.”
In a new commercial promoting the legalization of marijuana in the state, she explains why she believes prohibition doesn’t work and why she supports a new approach to the drug.
Though it has only appeared on the Internet, Peter Zuckerman, spokesperson for New Approach Oregon, the state’s marijuana legalization campaign, says the commercial could soon make its way to television as the group works to persuade Oregon voters to vote in favor of legalization this fall.
Known as IP 53, Oregon voters will have another opportunity to vote to legalize marijuana for adult use this fall, after the organizers of New Approach Oregon were able to turn in 145,710 signatures to the Oregon Secretary of State on June 27 — far more than the 87,213 valid signatures required by state law.
But given that 54 percent of voters in Oregon voted against a ballot measure initiative in 2012 that would have legalized marijuana, the campaign’s organizers are working hard to ensure that voters recognize that just like alcohol, no one has to use marijuana just because it is legal. Further, they hope to raise awareness that legalizing the drug allows the substance to be regulated and largely taken off the streets.
Although Colorado and Washington state legalized personal use of marijuana for adults 21 and older in 2012, and national polls indicate that a majority of the American public supports the legalization of medical marijuana, many parents and educators worry that legalization will have a negative impact on children. Specifically, they are concerned that the legalization of marijuana will encourage young children to try the substance, which they believe to be a gateway drug.
However, many advocates for legalization argue that legalizing the drug allows the substance to be regulated more like alcohol and tobacco, which are more difficult for most teens to obtain than black market substances like marijuana. In addition to legalization making it more difficult for teens to get their hands on marijuana, advocates say education programs would be implemented post-legalization to educate teens about marijuana — for example, the drug’s effects on the body and how it can be ingested safely.
Oregon currently allows the legal sale of medical marijuana, and a person can possess up to 1 ounce of the substance without being criminally prosecuted. It is, however, illegal to buy and sell the drug, which is why many legalization advocates say IP 53 is a chance for the state to remedy some of its imperfect laws related to the drug.
Though New Approach Oregon is intentionally excluding the color green and marijuana leaves from its campaign in order to appeal more to mainstream voters, some argue that given Colorado’s success in legalizing the substance, it isn’t necessary for the campaign to distance itself from stereotypical marijuana imagery.
In the first six months of legalization in Colorado, the Centennial State hasn’t seen problems with licensed dispensaries selling marijuana to anyone younger than 21, and crime has actually decreased in the state by more than 10 percent.
According to documents from the Oregon State Police department, law enforcement dealt with almost 16,000 marijuana-related crimes in 2012, or roughly two cases per hour, which means law enforcement in Oregon would be freed up to attend to more serious crimes in the community if the drug was legalized.
Colorado has also generated around $20 million in state taxes and fees so far from legal marijuana sales, which will be spent on constructing schools and creating drug education campaigns for youth. Under IP 53, 40 percent of the money raised from marijuana sales will go to fund schools, 35 percent will go toward state and local police, and 25 percent will be spent on drug treatment, prevention and mental health programs.
While Oregon’s law appears to be very similar to Colorado’s, one notable difference is that the initiative in Oregon includes a local option rules, meaning that while municipalities can ban adult-use marijuana businesses, a local council in Oregon could overrule that ban by passing an ordinance. The state currently has a similar law in place for alcohol, which allows cities within some conservative counties to permit these types of businesses.
Anthony Johnson, the co-author of the initiative, says this local option is crucial because it gives the public a greater voice in the issue. Without a local option, Johnson says Oregon could run into alcohol-related issues that states like Mississippi still face today.
Although prohibition of alcohol ended more than 80 years ago, almost half of Mississippi remains “dry” because the state didn’t have local option rules for alcohol when the state’s prohibition ended in 1966. As a result, every county was considered to be alcohol free unless a certain number of signatures could be gathered by community members to get the issue on the local ballot and a majority of voters opted to allow alcohol there.