“Imagine, not one more American has to die for foreign oil,” said marijuana advocate Madeline Martinez at Monday morning's press conference kickoff of Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA
), a 2010 initiative petition that aims to make marijuana available for retail sale through Oregon's liquor stores (see this week's Murmurs
Amid the bloody debacle in Iraq and the recent spike in crude oil and gasoline prices, the prospect of homegrown "hempfuel" provides a new selling point for the latest initiative dedicated to legalizing, or as Martinez likes to say, “controlling” cannabis sales in Oregon. United for the initiative as “Oregonians for Cannabis Reform”
, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)
and The Campaign for Cannabis Reform
introduced their campaign to gather 82,769 signatures by July 2, 2010 for OCTA to be Initiative #2 in the 2010 general election .
Sheltered from cameras behind hemp waffles, hemp breakfast bars and hemp breads, Martinez and Paul Stanford
, the initiative's chief petitioners, backed up Martinez's claim about hempfuel's potential by referring to a 1975 Notre Dame study in the Midlands Naturalist
, "Feral Hemp in Southern Illinois."
“The main thing hemp makes is fuel,” said Stanford. “Hemp is three times more productive [than other biofuel sources], so if all other economies remain the same, then hempseed fuel should be 1/3 the cost of all other biodiesel fuels out there.” Stanford and Martinez were careful to back their energy-related hemp claims with studies, though they were unable to cite any studies more recent than the 1970s for WW
The OCTA coalition says it has carefully designed its “control” reform of marijuana to withstand a federal court challenge. Regulation of cannabis by a state body makes the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which regulates alcohol sales in Oregon and licenses all state liquor stores, integral for ballot success because state regulation would help the initiative be upheld in federal court.
Christie Scott, the public affairs specialist for the OLCC, constructed a careful comment on OCTA for WWire, emphasizing the agency's neutral position on the petition: "At this point we don't support or oppose the petition. Once it becomes law, we will do whatever the law tells us and then move towards taking the needed steps." Under the proposed reform, cannabis would be sold only to adults 21 and over through retail stores regulated by the OLCC. Those younger than 21 would still be charged with a Class B felony for possession of more than an ounce of pot, and people who have already been sentenced for a cannabis-related conviction would not be granted amnesty. In addition to storefront regulation, growth and storage of cannabis would also be controlled by the OLCC. Stanford adds that the proposed system would also give medical marijuana patients better access options.
According to Stanford, industrial hemp “could quickly become Oregon's biggest cash crop through plastic products, food and textiles.” Pot is currently an illegal Oregon harvest, of course, though the crop's growth is also included in purposed OLCC regulations on the initiative. With a sweeping gesture across the hemp products assembled in front of him for the press conference, Stanford invoked the Jeffersonian dream of a farmer-based society: “What we want to do is return our economy and farms to what our founding fathers had sought.”
OCTA claims revenue of state regulated cannabis sales could easily reach $300 million annually, and tourism-related activities could add another $50 million to that number. Furthermore, Martinez said, legalization and regulation could harness money that would otherwise go to the cannabis black market: “Let's put it in a safe place through cannabis taxation.” The initiative appropriates 10 percent of this revenue to go to drug treatment, but the rest would be redirected into Oregon's general fund. The OCTA advocates say taxation of cannabis products would be on the same template as alcohol.
Russ Belville, of Oregon NORML and The Russ Belville Show says, "The OCTA initiative does not designate a percent taxation on pot products, those numbers will fall to state regulation". Yet, keeping pot costs low is still of concern to OCTA supporters. Belville specified for WW, "We want pot priced so it will eliminate black market marijuana".
Stanford admitted that activists have their own personal reasons for pushing the initiative: “We are doing this for a lot of different reasons; some of us of course like to use cannabis socially. I account myself as one of those.” Martinez, for her part, is is a medical marijuana user for disc and joint pain.
So what makes this initiative different from the failed legalization attempts in 1996 and 1998?
“There has been a decade of medical marijuana experience," Martinez says. "And there is just a generational change—at the presidential level we had an African American and woman fight it out.”
Yet the advertisement world and the Cheech and Chong stigma have already presented OCTA with challenges unrelated to the formidable problem of raising funds. Even if OCTA raises enough funds for advertising, “major television stations will not even let us put our message out there, they will not even allow us to buy advertising space," Stanford says. “Hopefully, that will change if we make the ballot.”
And the media blockade is not the group's only formidable opponent. Former GOP party head and legislator Kevin Mannix, who scored his biggest successes pushing though law-and-order initiatives like Measure 11, dropped an initiative
this year to curb Oregon medical marijuana in favor of prescribed THC pills (which Stanford described to WW
as “overpriced and ineffective”).
Asked about the new petition's prospects, Mannix told WW, “The issue of medical marijuana is separate from creating a whole new business. There is a slim to none chance that this [OCTA] would be upheld in Federal Court.” Mannix said OCTA 2010 was on his back burner relative to more pressing public-safety measures he's working on, Measures 40 and 41, which address identity theft and hard drugs. And Mannix doesn't expect OCTA 2010 ever to make it onto his front burner: “It doesn't have much of a prayer,” he says.
Martinez says OCTA's advocates are ready for the fight—though not itching for one. She contrasted the users of cannabis and alcohol, two products that could soon be sharing space on Oregon liquor-store shelves: “You know we are not the ones fighting in bars—we are always a really mellow bunch. We just eat too much.”