Oregon’s Elected Officials Show Leadership

For those of us who have spent years in the trenches of marijuana policy reform, it has been a rare sight to see elected leaders actually lead. It has been the voting public who have paved the way.

But there is a glimmer of hope in Oregon.

In the four states, and the District of Columbia, that have legalized marijuana in the face of federal prohibition, those courageous and innovative steps were taken by the voters, not the elected officials in those jurisdictions.

In fact, not only were most elected officials unwilling to seriously consider enacting legalization legislatively, most also publicly opposed the proposals and urged their defeat at the polls. Fortunately the voters led the way, and left their “leaders” to follow.

So we are accustomed to the challenge of moving progressive marijuana legislation forward despite the active opposition of most politicians. It means we mostly focus on those states that offer a voter initiative as a way to change public policy by going around the legislature. And it sometimes results in constitutional amendments being proposed, despite higher approval requirements in some states, to protect against the possibility that the legislature might simply ignore the will of the voters and reverse a legalization initiative by a vote of the out-of-touch legislators still holding on to their war-on-marijuana mentality.

But there are some new signs that this overwhelming opposition of elected officials to marijuana legalization may be coming to an end, at least in some states, and that some elected officials are now deciding to embrace these new changes and to take steps to implement them in a common-sense manner, to serve the public interest.

I am referring specifically to the recent decision of the Oregon legislature to begin offering legal recreational marijuana sales a year earlier than had been expected. They had no legal requirement to make this change, but they decided to accept the will of the voters and to implement the new law sooner rather than later. They acted like leaders, rather than sore losers.

SB 460 Approved by Legislature, Signed by Governor

Measure 91, the legalization initiative that was approved by 56 percent of Oregon voters in November of 2014, would have been implemented in two-steps. First, as of July 1, 2015, it became legal for those 21 and above to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, to possess up to 8 ounces in the home, and to privately cultivate up to four plants. But provisions in the initiative that gave the Oregon Liquor Control Commission the authority to begin issuing licenses for commercial growers and sellers, delayed this process until January 4, 2016, and legal dispensaries were not expected to be operational until October of 2016.

The result, like the current situation in the District of Columbia, is that recreational marijuana is now legal in Oregon, but there is no legal market. But unlike the District, where the City Council has been hamstrung by Congress in their efforts to establish licensed growers and sellers, the Oregon legislature decided to fix the problem with a short-term solution – they enacted emergency legislation allowing the existing 300-plus licensed medical marijuana dispensaries, which are regulated by the Oregon Health Authority, to begin selling to adult recreational smokers on October 1, 2015.

Recreational consumers will also be able to purchase marijuana seeds and up to four non-flowering plants. (In a nod to local control, counties that opposed Measure 91 with at least 55 percent of the vote, all located on the east side of the state, were given the right to ban recreational sales during this interim program.)

That’s right! The legislature enacted, and Gov. Kate Brown promptly signed, SB 460, bringing full legalization to Oregon a full year ahead of schedule. For once, instead of trying to undermine the new law, they have embraced it and elected to try to make it work as intended by the voters.

Gov. Brown’s office called the measure “a smart solution to a short-term logistical problem,” adding, “If marijuana is legal to use, it shouldn’t be illegal to buy.”

The new law will permit recreational users to purchase up to one-quarter of an ounce of marijuana per transaction from any of the licensed medical dispensaries. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission will continue forward with the process of issuing recreational licenses after the first of the year, and when those new recreational dispensaries are up and running, consumers will be permitted to purchase up to one ounce of marijuana per transaction.

A Model for Elected Officials Moving Forward

One admirable, common sense step by one state legislature does not make a trend, but it does establish a powerful example of how elected officials can get ahead of the curve and work cooperatively to implement these new laws, without delay, and one that can be the model for elected officials in the states that are expected to adopt legalization in the coming months.

A majority of the voters nationwide now support full legalization, and that support appears to be growing. They understand that prohibition is a failed public policy and legalization with regulation is a better option for everyone, smokers and non-smokers alike. When voters clearly register their approval for marijuana legalization, it’s time for the politicians to acknowledge that change, embrace it, and take steps to implement the new laws in a timely and responsible manner. It is time to lead, for a change.

This column first appeared @ marijuana.com.

14 thoughts

  1. Smart politicians there in Oregon, the sooner they have actual legal sales in the adult recreational market, the sooner the tax revenues start rolling in. Chained to my thankless job with no prospects for advancement here in Pennsylvania and no prospects to move to another state such as Oregon, the more revenue a state has the better the chances of the state having a budget. You, Pennsylvania was supposed to have passed a state budget by the end of June, but the prohibitionist politicians are too busy farting around–to put it nicely.

  2. We need to get marijuana off the same list as heroin, meth and coke. Amazing in 2015 it is still considered like such poison drugs..Common sense knows they are SOOO different only fools would want to keep marijuana on the same level as heroin? meth? coke? are u kidding me?

  3. “I am referring specifically to the recent decision of the Oregon legislature to begin offering legal recreational marijuana sales a year earlier than had been expected. They had no legal requirement to make this change, but they decided to accept the will of the voters and to implement the new law sooner rather than later. They acted like leaders, rather than sore losers.”

    The better beauty of this leadership is that the inertia and momentum will build on the Federal government and states that don’t have voter initiatives. Now, when Senator Wyden from Oregon meets Senator Cruz across the aisle the fear will be firmly on the Texas Senator’s side. Well, I guess Cruz could listen to the majority of Texans, kinda like he said he “respects but doesn’t agree personally” with Colorado legalization, but what if the scales are tipped Federally? Even the hubris of a prohibitionist Texas Senator is no match for Ohio legalizing this year and California next year…

  4. I believe the true source of courage and leadership for Oregon’s elected officials is the millions of dollars that Vancouver Wash. recreational shops are raking in from Oregonians driving across the river.

  5. As an Oregonian I would like to say that what took place proved the old adage of politics is the art of the possible. Compromises were made in so many areas by all parties involved.

    The real deal for the people is the ability to grow your own (4 plant limit) with no fees or permits. My hope is that enough people do that so the price drops to practically zero, the same as one would get for some home-raised tomatos which one share with neighbors, family and friends.

    Oregon’s personal grow law is the most free of the ones I know. Washington does not let you grow at all. Colorado requires you keep the plants in a box. Ohio’s measure requires a payment of $50. Given our great growing conditions I would expect Oregon to be able to live up to our “Keep Oregon Green” saying with ease!

  6. Are these the same elected officials that promised M91 wouldn’t change OMMP, then after M91 passed are trying to gut OMMP on their own?http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Portland-NORML-Van-to-Salem-Monday-to-Save-OMMP.html?soid=1120259028798&aid=n4EDbIvbOsU

    [Editor’s note: Elected officials in OR didn’t make the claim that the passage of M91 wouldn’t effect OMMP, it was the pro-reformers who placed the measure on the ballot who made the claim. Generally speaking, in every state with medical cannabis laws, elected officials and revenuers prefer the general legalization model.]

  7. I am watching to see if Governor Kate uses the “numbers influx” after 10/1 until the first rec shop opens to show non medical demand which could be a very accurate barometer of national usage. Fodder for Congress and possible federal tax revenue, because what better way to have cannabis removed from “The List” than to show revenue possibility! (nudge, nudge, wink, wink)

  8. It was an excellent option, a true Republican came up with it, the rest of the joint committee agreed it was a great idea, the entirety of the state legislature acted.
    Sometimes things just fall into place. I hope this precedent will be used everywhere legalization is enacted. The will of the people should be acknowledged; What better way to do that then to fast track their request?

  9. HURRAY to smart women Governors. I have traveled from NC to Ca this year to access marijuana. Next year I will head on up to Oregon and Washington. I am 61 yrs old and ecstatic to have access to even medicinal marijuana. It’s expensive in CA. It cost me $130.00 for my medical license and where I am at has no dispensaries, delivery only. I pay $15 for a gram of bubble hash and I paid $120.00 for a half ounce of Blue Rhino. I know it is going to be cheaper in Oregon so I am looking forward to moving on. In NC where it is very illegal we were getting dispensary grade pot brought in at $125 a quarter ounce. I’ll be glad to see the prices drop.

  10. @ Nancy,

    Good for you! I only wish I could afford a trip to the N.W. too–one of these days.

  11. I live in Malheur County. Could someone please tell me if my County will allow people over 21 to begin purchasing from the Medical Shops on 1, October 2015?

    I’m severely disabled due to having had Arthritis for over 33 years, and the joint damage has been severe. Being on a VERY limited income, I cannot afford the doctor’s visit to a doctor willing to consider M.M. Nor can I afford to lose my HUD Housing by possessing M.M. where I live.

    Another question: Is anything being done about HUD forcing people to sign a document saying that even after it is legal we aren’t allowed to have any at home? (It was a joke!) The medical allowances weren’t covered because of the synthetic version supposedly being “exactly the same but Legal”, which as we ALL know is false!

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