Pubdate: Thu, 12 Sep 2013
Source: Statesman Journal (Salem, OR)
Copyright: 2013 Statesman Journal
Author: Anna Staver


House Wants to Control Measure

Oregon's House leadership is talking about referring its own 
marijuana legalization measure to voters rather than waiting on 
someone else to write a ballot measure for 2014.

House minority leader Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, said 
Wednesday that Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, spoke with him about 
her concern that if lawmakers don't write their own proposal, then 
Oregon voters could pass a measure that's both legally confusing and 
lacks sufficient oversight.

"The speaker has indicated to me that we run that risk if we do 
nothing," McLane said. "I think that's reasonable."

Kotek was unavailable for comment. Her spokesman, Jared Mason-Gere, 
would only say the speaker will be "looking at this carefully and 
trying to ensure Oregon learns from other states' experiences."

Oregon voters rejected a 2012 initiative that would have allowed 
residents to cultivate and use marijuana for non-medicinal purposes. 
In 2013, a House bill similar to the failed Oregon Cannabis Tax Act 
also failed to get out of the House Revenue committee.

Despite these failures, legalization proponents and state lawmakers 
think 2014 could be the year. Especially since U.S. Attorney General 
Eric Holder announced Aug. 29 that the Department of Justice won't 
challenge marijuana legalization laws passed by voters in Colorado 
and Washington.

Anthony Johnson, director of New Approach Oregon, a group working 
toward cannabis legalization, told the Statesman Journal this month 
he believes state lawmakers should write the measure, but his group 
plans to move forward with an initiative if the legislature fails to 
act. Paul Stanford of the Oregon branch of the National Organization 
for the Reform of Marijuana Laws also told the Statesman Journal that 
his organization is working on two marijuana initiative petitions.

"We can see the writing on the wall," Rep. Phil Barnhart, D-Eugene, 
said. "We ought to write the law we want. (The law) that we think 
will best accomplish the long-term goal of doing the best we can for 
the people of Oregon."

For Barnhart, doing his best includes breaking up "criminal gangs" 
who sell pot illegally throughout the state, preventing kids from 
using marijuana by creating age restrictions and regulating 
dispensaries the way the state does with alcohol and by using taxes 
generated through marijuana sales to support substance abuse 
treatment programs.

McLane said that although he likely wouldn't vote for legalization, 
he and other Republicans might vote in favor of a sending a referral 
to the ballot.

"I'm a pragmatist," McLane said.

The House minority leader pointed to Measure 37, a controversial 
land-use initiative from 2004 that produced a number of legal 
disputes, as a history he would rather not repeat. He also said 
initiative writers sometimes gloss over potential risks and effects 
from their proposals, and he'd like to make sure Oregonians have a 
clear picture of what legalization would look like.

"I wouldn't say (Republicans) are overwhelmingly joyful about it; I'm 
not either," Barnhart said.

The Eugene Democrat added that he's spoken to a number of Republican 
lawmakers about a referral after Holder's announcement and "several 
of them acknowledged that we are going to get a change in the law."

If the legislature hopes to pass a referral during the five-week 
session in 2014, Barnhart said a bicameral committee to look at 
judicial, legal and health impacts of legalization and potentially 
draft the referral needs to be formed. The Statesman Journal reported 
this month that leadership in the House and Senate were looking into that idea.

Mason-Gere confirmed Wednesday that Kotek has approached at least two 
Republicans about their interest in being on that committee. But 
Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli's office said it hasn't heard 
anything yet.

"(Legalization) is complicated enough that we need to start now, so 
when February session comes along, we can get it done," Barnhart 
said. "It isn't possible to do it if we don't start now."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom