Pubdate: Wed, 13 May 2015
Source: Oregonian, The (Portland, OR)
Copyright: 2015 The Oregonian


Oregon's marijuana policy has evolved so dramatically over the past 
17 years for one reason: direct democracy.

In 1998, voters supported a citizen initiative legalizing the use of 
pot for medical purposes. Sixteen years later, voters supported a 
citizen initiative legalizing the possession and sale of pot for 
recreational use. The state Legislature has dipped a toe into the 
policy bong water here and there - by sanctioning medical marijuana 
dispensaries in 2013, for instance. But marijuana has been made 
available to sick people and, soon, everyday people only because 
Oregonians themselves took the lead.

Given this history, Monday's debate among members of the 
Legislature's pot-legalization committee, which resulted in an 
impasse, is a bit baffling.

The panel, ironically, deadlocked over the role voters should play in 
banning medical marijuana dispensaries. While adopting either of two 
options discussed Monday would be preferable to an impasse, the one 
that engages voters automatically is more in keeping with both the 
history and spirit of marijuana legalization in Oregon.

The panel, known officially as the Joint Committee on Implementing 
Measure 91, has a difficult task. It must, as its name indicates, 
figure out how to implement last fall's legalization measure.

In addition, it must rein in the state's medical marijuana system, 
whose lax regulation allows the diversion of huge amounts of pot to 
recreational users.

It makes little sense to allow the recreational sale of a taxed and 
tightly regulated product without addressing the engine that fuels 
the untaxed black market.

The pot panel has focused so far on the shortcomings of the 
medical-marijuana system and is, Rep. Ken Helm, D-Beaverton, said 
Monday, 97 percent of the way toward a great bill (Senate Bill 844). 
The remaining 3 percent has proved a challenge, to say the least.

On Monday, Jeff Mapes of The Oregonian/OregonLive reported, the panel 
deadlocked on the process for banning medical marijuana facilities. 
When the Legislature gave its blessing to medical dispensaries in 
2013, it also allowed local governments to prohibit them until May 1, 
2015. They did just this in droves, with 146 cities and 26 counties 
saying "no" to pot dispensaries. The question the committee wrestled 
with Monday is, in essence, "what now?" Should bans adopted by local 
governments go to voters automatically, or should citizens who want 
to overturn such bans have to place them on the ballot?

Supporters of the latter option would require ban opponents to gather 
signatures equivalent to 4 percent of the vote cast locally in the 
last gubernatorial election.

Gathering that many signatures would hardly be an insurmountable 
task, and a version of SB844 that set such a hurdle would still be a 
valuable piece of legislation. It seems more honest, however, to 
place any ban adopted by a local government on the ballot 
automatically. The point of the exercise should be to find out what a 
community wants, and the most straightforward way to do this is to 
ask the community directly.

By, you know, having a vote. Requiring people to gather signatures, 
on the other hand, makes it more difficult for a community to adopt 
the regulations it wants.

The make-'em-work option is particularly odd given the provisions of 
Measure 91, Rep. Ann Lininger, D-Lake Oswego, noted.

The measure allows recreational pot sales to happen unless opponents 
place a local prohibition on the ballot and convince voters to back 
it. Why, if recreational pot sales are legal unless local voters say 
otherwise, should supporters of medical marijuana have to gather 
signatures and hold a vote to make it available locally?

This is completely inconsistent, even nonsensical.

This week's impasse notwithstanding, the pot-legalization committee 
is sure to recommend a version of SB844 at some point.

When it does, it ought to back the version that best allows 
communities to create the policies they want.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom