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Will Oregon Legalize Marijuana In 2014 Or 2016?

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oregon cannabisLoyal readers know that I am a lifelong Oregonian, and I have been a long time marijuana activists here. Not as long as some of the veterans, but I have been fighting for reform for about half my life, and I feel that I know what I’m talking about when it comes to marijuana reform in my state. When you throw in the fact that I have a degree in Public Policy from a university that is not too far from the state capital, I think it strengthens my credibility even more. For some reason, what I say in person doesn’t matter much in most marijuana reform circles in and outside of Oregon, but fortunately thanks to our readers, I have a pretty large soap box to shout from here on the internet.

I have received quite a few e-mails lately from people asking my opinion on whether Oregon should pursue marijuana legalization in 2014 or 2016. My answer? Both. If I’m forced to choose, then my answer is 2014. I know that a lot of activists both inside and outside of Oregon disagree with me, but let me say my piece and see if you still feel that way. It seems like anyone that is against pursuing marijuana legalization in 2014 points to the fact that it is not a presidential election year. I always point out that if that is indeed the biggest determining factor, then why is any state pursuing any marijuana reform in 2014? Last time I checked almost every state was pursuing it in 2014 because after Colorado and Washington passed legalization in 2012 the entire political landscape changed.

People will always say that ‘other states are polling higher than Oregon right now,’ and that’s why they should pursue a tax and regulate (TR) system, while Oregon should wait. I always point out to these people that Oregon is the only state right now that doesn’t have legalization, yet has the ultimate poll – the 2012 election results for Oregon Measure 80. Oregon Measure 80 received almost 47% of the vote in this last election. Other states can have all the ‘pretend’ polling in the world, full of hypothetical examples, but they will never be as accurate as election results.

Almost 47% of 2012 Oregon voters voted for UNLIMITED cultivation and possession of marijuana. Almost 47% of Oregon voted for UNLIMITED cultivation and possession of marijuana despite the fact that the campaign was run with virtually no money, and didn’t get any financial assistance from national organizations or large donors (well, except Willie Nelson!). Name one other state that you could ask the voters straight up or down ‘do you want marijuana to be legal with  no constraints’ and have 47% of the voters say yes, despite the fact that there was virtually no public awareness campaign behind the question? Looking at how heavily regulated Washington and Colorado’s models are, I doubt even they could get as much support for such a loose system.

If organizations and large donors are going to back campaigns in 2014 in other states, but won’t do it in Oregon, that just simply doesn’t make sense to me. If it was an all or nothing thing, and organizations and donors weren’t backing anything in any state in 2014, I would understand. But to choose other states over Oregon based off of polling seems ridiculous to me. If marijuana reform had never, ever had a victory in a non-presidential election year, then I would maybe feel different. But marijuana reform has had at least one major victory in a non-presidential year that I can think of…um, Oregon 1998 anyone?

What a lot of out-of-staters don’t take into account is that Oregon holds it’s Governor’s race in non-presidential election years. So while voter turnout isn’t quite as large as it is during presidential years, it’s still significant. And when one considers the demographics of Oregon politics, things seem even less stark. Oregon votes mostly Democrat. And we know that Democrats are much more likely to vote for legalization than Republicans (although that divide is narrowing!). Oregon is so Democrat that we haven’t elected a Republican in a statewide race in over a decade. In fact, races such as Attorney General and Treasurer often don’t even have a Republican candidate on the ballot. After a race in 2010 that saw the Governor decided by a razor thin margin, things are going to be heated in 2014. National Democrat organizations are going to be pouring in efforts and money to bring out as many voters in Oregon as possible. This will have an effect on any marijuana reform measure as well.

I was once part of a staff for an Oregon initiative that would have legalized marijuana in 2012 (separate from Measure 80). I got to sit in one of the most powerful Dem offices and talk to political experts outside of the marijuana movement about how we can work together. Those experts knew that marijuana legalization would bring out voters that they normally couldn’t get to the ballot box, and that those voters would heavily lean Democrat. They wanted to work together, and I guarantee the same thing will happen in 2014 if there is an initiative or referral.

2012 saw a legalization measure make the ballot in Oregon, despite almost no help from national organizations. That same measure was a little over 3% away from victory, despite no help from national organizations. If there was a legalization measure that had some reasonable constraints, with a reasonable amount of money backing it, it would win in 2014 or 2016. I will agree that 2016 is better. But I don’t agree that 2014 would be a losing effort, as long as there is reasonable support from national organizations. I think before people pass judgement on Oregon, they need to do more homework. I’m so tired of my state being left out of the loop even though we lead the way in so many areas of marijuana reform. I truly hope we join Washington and legalize marijuana in Oregon in 2014. If you disagree, feel free to place your comments below because I am VERY interested in having a discussion about this. Or, if you agree, also place your comments below so that we can show national organizations that there is more support in Oregon than they think!

P.S. – For more on Oregon’s marijuana movement and politics, please ask Dwight Holton…

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