Oregon pot measure deserved to go down

Backers of Oregon's failed marijuana legalization measure just don't get it. They're now trying to place blame on the media or lack of support from outsiders. If they want to know who to blame, they should look in the mirror.

When Tuesday night's results were tallied, Washington and Colorado voters had easily passed marijuana legalization measures, with about 55 percent support in both states. Oregon's measure, meanwhile, bombed, with 55 percent of the state's voters opposing it.

There are two principal reasons for its failure. First, while the other two states' measures would have imposed reasonable controls on pot possession, Oregon's essentially would have regulated marijuana like it was a common garden vegetable.

The measure also suffered from the state's out-of-control medical marijuana law, which has led to patient cards being handed out like candy, far too many growers exceeding plant limits and, in too many cases, outright criminal activity by licensed growers.

(We also could go on about the juvenile way in which the legalization measure was written, but that might qualify as piling on.)

With 17 states and the District of Columbia now permitting medical marijuana, two states voting for legalization and several others treating simple possession of pot no more severely than a speeding ticket, it seems inevitable that this nation is headed toward legalization.

But for that to happen first in Oregon, its advocates are going to have to get out of their own way. The measure they proposed in this state didn't just open the door to legalization, it blew down the house.

Oregon's measure had no limits on personal possession and no limits on the number of plants that individuals could grow. It would have established an "oversight board" composed primarily of marijuana growers and distributors.

Washington's measure limits possession to 1 ounce and does not allow people to grow their own. Colorado's measure would allow possession of up to 1 ounce and six growing plants.

One of the arguments in favor of legalizing pot is that the state could tax it. But voters aren't stupid: If people can grow unlimited amounts in their backyards, why would they pay for it at a state-authorized store, and pay taxes to boot on each purchase? The revenue stream from his measure would have been a trickle at best.

Proponents also argue that marijuana is no more harmful, in fact less harmful, than alcohol, so why not allow it? But with unlimited home grows, regulation would have been virtually impossible. Very different than alcohol, which not only has to pass beneath the OLCC microscope, but also is much more difficult to produce at home.

Following the failed effort, pot proponents are vowing to come back and are beginning that comeback by pushing legislators to take up the issue in the 2013 session. But Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, who supported this year's measure, said that's unlikely. He did say, however, that the Legislature may very well take on the existing medical marijuana law and try to close some of the legal loopholes.

In the past, marijuana advocates have opposed any interference from the Legislature. They would do well now to encourage it, because the longer the medical marijuana mess goes unresolved, the longer it will be before Oregonians embrace legalization.

There is no question that far too much law enforcement and court time has been spent on arresting and prosecuting individual marijuana users. With the funding crunch for public agencies likely to continue, it will continue to be a poor allocation of resources.

Legalization advocates blew their opportunity this time by trying to go too far, too fast. If they support fixing the medical marijuana law and can agree on a less expansive legalization measure, they may find Oregonians much more receptive to the idea the next time around.

Share This Story