On the heels of Colorado and Washington legalizing cannabis, the Oregon House Committee on Revenue has recently introduced a bill that would end cannabis prohibition by licensing, regulating and taxing cannabis similar to alcohol. After legalization victories in two states and 47% of Oregon voters supporting a proposal that would have allowed the unlimited personal production and possession of cannabis last November, The Oregonian Editorial Board called on state lawmakers to craft a sensible legalization bill. The editorial board was rightfully concerned that Oregon would be losing out on much-needed revenue to its northern neighbor.
And if business booms at Washington’s pot shops, as expected? Our neighbor to the north will collect millions of dollars in new “sin” taxes, with much of the money coming from Oregonians who’d be happy to keep their business — and taxes — in state if given the opportunity.
Losing out on all that revenue would be a pity. However, when policies diverge so widely in adjoining states — whether they govern marijuana or taxes - people move back and forth in pursuit of their interests. Want to stop the movement? Remove the incentives by leveling the policies.
The obvious policy response for Oregon is to legalize marijuana as Washington has done. Like the idea or hate it, it wouldn’t amount to a radical change. For all intents and purposes, Oregon legalized the casual use of marijuana years ago through that giant loophole known as the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program. By taking the Washington approach, the state at least would be honest about what it’s doing and, perhaps, collect some cash in the process.
Some astute Oregon legislators appear to have heard The Oregonian (and common sense) loud and clear. It is time to stop wasting hard-earned tax dollars on trying to prevent people from growing, selling and utilizing cannabis. Instead of wasting money on cannabis prohibition, House Bill 3371 would establish a licensed and regulated industry that creates thousands of jobs and generates millions of dollars through licenses fees and excise taxes.
The bill takes good parts from both the Washington and Colorado models and crafts a proposal that will regulate and tax cannabis like alcohol, implementing safeguards to better keep marijuana out of the hands of children while also generating millions of dollars in revenue for education, public safety, substance abuse treatment and mental health services. Unlike, Washington’s I-502, HB 3371 doesn’t establish a per se DUII law as it leaves the current DUII law alone. Employment and landlord-tenant law are also left alone. Like Colorado Amendment 64, the measure allows for small, personal cannabis gardens. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) will handle inspections and enforcement, tasked with ensuring that cannabis retail outlets are checking IDs and keeping marijuana out of the hands of minors.
The timing is right for Oregon to end cannabis prohibition. Colorado and Washington legalized cannabis with strong majorities and support is increasing rapidly among Oregon voters. Passing HB 3371 is a good policy for the state as it will expand individual rights; raise funds for much-needed services; save money by diverting resources currently spent on marijuana enforcement; and allow police to focus on more important priorities, like violent crime. Just like alcohol prohibition, cannabis prohibition is a failure that is robbing good citizens of their tax dollars, without accomplishing any of its intended goals. I commend the House Committee on Revenue for taking up this important issue and look forward to helping move this bill forward.
Article originally appeared on National Cannabis Coalition and republished with special permission