Allows campaign finance limits
Four years ago, Portland-area campaign finance reformers passed the first limits on political contributions Oregon had seen in a decade. By an overwhelming margin, Multnomah County voters limited contributions to $500 for politicians seeking election to the county commission.
That vote resulted in a court battle over a 1997 Oregon Supreme Court decision that decreed free speech provisions in the Oregon Constitution also protected limitless contributions. Earlier this year, the reformers won a partial victory: The Oregon Supreme Court said that limits were allowed in Oregon but kicked it back to the lower court to decide how the rules interplayed with federal constitutional protections.
In the meantime, advocates decided the simplest way to allow cities and counties to cap campaign spending was to enshrine that right in the state's constitution.
Oregon is one of just five U.S. states that have no statewide limits on campaign contributions. This measure won't change that, but it would let localities make their own rules.
WW endorsed the Multnomah County measure four years ago. And we again support the effort to limit contributions.
Money can translate into power. Perhaps no better example exists this year than in the Portland mayor's race: In May, Mayor Ted Wheeler wasn't bound by a cap on individual contributions, and he collected huge checks from downtown power brokers. But the general election falls after the court ruling—and Wheeler's fundraising has floundered. Whether you think Wheeler deserves another term or not, his reversal of fortune demonstrates how limits on campaign contributions level the playing field for new voices.
Indeed, the effort to limit the influence of monied interests is broadly popular—heck, it's downright democratic. We expect this measure to pass handily.
The hard work is the next step: figuring out the specific caps will apply, shutting off loopholes, and figuring out the balancing act between campaign finance limits and the fact there is no constitutional way to limit independent expenditures without federal legislation or a reversal of the Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Left to politicians, nothing has happened on campaign finance reform. All the change has come at the ballot. Hopefully, they'll hear from voters that deciding on statewide limits in the next legislative session is the right way to go. In the meantime, vote yes.
Increases taxes on tobacco and vaping
Oregon's current tax on a pack of cigarettes is $1.33. This measure, a referral from the Legislature, would increase that tax by $2, bringing the state tax to $3.33 a pack, moving Oregon from way behind to slightly ahead of Washington ($3.025 per pack) and California ($2.87). The measure also taxes vaping products for the first time, tacking on 65% of the wholesale price at the retail level. And it increases the maximum tax on individual cigars from 50 cents to a dollar.
Oregon hasn't raised cigarette taxes by a meaningful amount since 2002. In 2007, the last time lawmakers asked voters for a big increase, R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris crushed the measure with their massive wallets. It's a sign of how much science and public opinion have changed since then that Big Tobacco didn't even file Voters' Pamphlet statements in opposition to this measure, let alone try to counter the more than $13 million proponents have raised to win by virtual default. (The vaping industry hates the measure, but 93% of the $165 million the measure would raise annually would come from cigarettes, so it's tobacco's opposition—or lack thereof—that matters.)
Here are the basic reasons this is such a one-sided contest: Although tobacco use remains in a long-term downtrend, tobacco is still the leading cause of preventable deaths in Oregon, according to state figures—more than 8,000 a year. It also saddles the state with $1.5 billion a year in costs for tobacco users. And 1 in 4 high school students vapes, putting them on their way, critics say, to a different form of nicotine addiction.
If this measure passes, 90% of the money would go to the Oregon Health Authority, which administers the Oregon Health Plan that pays medical expenses for low-income Oregonians, and 10% would go to tobacco-use cessation programs. As with any new tax, we worry lawmakers might take away funding for OHA commensurate with the new revenue. Advocates say they won't let that happen.
Look at this as a user fee on tobacco, like a gasoline tax or even a fishing license. For far too long, the state—that means all of us—has borne the enormous costs of health care for Oregonians addicted to tobacco. This measure is a win-win: The higher prices would dampen consumption and bring the OHA badly needed revenue. Vote yes.
Legalizes and regulates psilocybin therapy
For nearly four years, married Beaverton therapists Sheri and Tom Eckert have sought to legalize the use of psilocybin in therapy sessions. Yes, that's the hallucinogen derived from psychedelic mushrooms.
Some 164,000 Oregonians found the Eckerts' idea legitimate enough to sign petitions to place it on the November ballot. That the founders of the Oregon Psilocybin Society managed this in the midst of a pandemic is a testament to how keen they are for the trip to begin.
Oregon has long been at the vanguard of sanctioning drugs. But backers are quick to note that this isn't a legalization of shrooms. Instead, people 21 and older would be allowed to take doses of psilocybin only within licensed facilities and under the supervision of professional providers. The psilocybin program would be managed by the Oregon Health Authority, which would have the power to grant, renew and revoke licenses.
Retail sales of psilocybin (just the product, not the treatment) would be taxed at 15%. The measure anticipates spending $5.4 million of the state's general fund to implement the program between 2021 and 2023, and another $3.1 million in ongoing annual costs—an amount that would, in theory, be offset by the tax on psilocybin.
If the measure passes, there would be a two-year implementation period before clinics can open and licenses would be granted, meaning January 2023 is the soonest you can hallucinate on the state's dime.
Users of psilocybin describe the drug as psychologically healing. Therapists who've supervised trips say that just one to three sessions, which last roughly four to eight hours each, can help people resolve grief and trauma by escaping in an altered state, and break out of various patterns of thought that have kept them stuck. In other words, patients get outside of their mental habits and find relief from them. Clinical studies conducted at institutions like Johns Hopkins, Harvard and New York University determined that psilocybin helped patients cope with addiction, anxiety, depression and impending death from a terminal illness. In 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted psilocybin a "breakthrough therapy designation" for treating major depressive disorder.
Skeptics persist—most prominently the Oregon Psychiatric Physicians Association and the American Psychiatric Association, with a combined 38,000 member physicians. (It bears mentioning, however, that the APA has opposed legalization of cannabis as well.)
In some ways, the initiative is premature. Psilocybin still hasn't undergone stage 3 clinical trials. Psilocybin remains a Schedule I drug, meaning it is illegal federally.
That said, the risks associated with psilocybin are minimal. It's not addictive and while it can cause anxiety, spikes in blood pressure and, for some people, paranoia or feelings of terror, physicians would screen users to determine if they are at risk for unwanted side effects.
We acknowledge those risks—and still think this plan is worth trying. Part of our reasoning is the dire state of Oregon's mental health care. The current system has failed thousands of Oregonians in anguish. The rolling disasters of 2020 have worsened the crisis. It is impossible to look at the condition of this state and ignore how many people are crying out for relief from mental distress. The safeguards around this initiative give us assurance it isn't some Timothy Leary-style bliss-out; it's a salve that can comfort wounded people.
Psilocybin won't cure all that ails Oregon, but it might help a few Oregonians. That's sufficient grounds to vote yes.
Decriminalizes drug possession
This initiative makes us nervous. It's an audacious policy shift that boldly flips the narrative about drug use.
For decades, Oregon and every other state have treated users who snort, inject or smoke hard drugs—such as heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and various opioids—as criminals. Measure 110 decriminalizes possession of those drugs for personal use. No other state or even U.S. city has gone this far: The model is Portugal, which decriminalized drugs in 2001.
So that's a major shift. It's also a long-overdue acknowledgment that the war on drugs is a failure. But like any concession that long-held norms and beliefs are simply wrong, shifting policy in this fashion requires a leap of faith.
Let's get the irrelevancies out of the way first. It's true that this measure will be funded up to the tune of about $5 million by the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife. It's also true they hired some of Oregon's most successful political consultants, who happen to be white, to pass a measure that, as a corollary benefit, aims to undo decades of racist drug policies. (Crack cocaine, a drug favored by Black users, for instance, has carried vastly heavier penalties than powdered cocaine, a version favored by white users.)
The deep pockets and tactics of the proponents are less important than the underlying principles. What matters is that Oregon is chronically at the bottom of the 50 states in spending on addiction treatment of any kind. Democratic dominance at all levels of government has done nothing to change the fact that a state where drug and alcohol use are among the nation's highest offers little more than jail and court-ordered treatment for people with addictions. Proponents make a compelling case that the outcome of criminalizing such mental illness is that tens of thousands of Oregonians end up with criminal records that derail careers, foreclose housing options, and needlessly stigmatize them rather than offering peer support or ways to compensate for what ails them.
Opponents, who include the group Oregon Recovers, an emerging political force, argue that the measure doesn't provide any new treatment beds and takes money away from existing programs, including K-12 education and county mental health and addiction services, rather than creating a new source of revenue. That's true but somewhat beside the point: Lawmakers have repeatedly refused to shift money to addiction services. That's why Oregon always ranks at the bottom of the heap.
Critics are letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. This measure is an important first step in fixing and funding a broken system. It doesn't preclude the tax on alcohol that Oregon Recovers seeks nor does it make sense to send cannabis tax money to K-12 education anyway.
Measure 110 would establish a commission under the auspices of the Oregon Health Authority to redirect about $100 million a year in cannabis taxes to treatment services in all regions of the state. (The state would continue distributing the first $45 million of cannabis tax money to current uses.) Those services would spend the money to provide assessment and treatment options for substance abusers who need help. Selling hard drugs would remain a crime—this measure is about decriminalization for users, not dealers.
A broad coalition of Oregon medical, psychological and treatment professionals say it's a risk worth taking. We hear the objections of cops and prosecutors who oppose the measure, but their way of dealing with substance abuse is a revolving door that brands sufferers for life. Let's try something new.