Joint Initiatives

New year, new momentum give new hope for legalizing cannabis.

In 1986, Vice President George H.W. Bush and first lady Nancy Reagan toured Oregon to oppose a statewide ballot measure legalizing cannabis.

The Oregon Marijuana Initiative, brought by then-26-year-old chief petitioner Paul Stanford, made it to the ballot but failed with a mere 26 percent support.

Twenty-four years later, it's hard to imagine current VP Joe Biden or first lady Michelle Obama barnstorming Oregon to rail against reefer. And Stanford enters 2010 believing his moment may have come at last.

Stanford, who runs a national chain of medical marijuana clinics (see "King Bong," WW, Dec. 12, 2007), is making a new legalization push for the November ballot. And with the help of a professional signature-gathering company, and a political climate vastly more turned on to cannabis, Stanford hopes finally to attain his lifelong goal.

"After a long winter of discontent with the Reagan administration and the war on drugs," Stanford says, "we're hopeful that science and facts will finally win the day."

Stanford has cause to smile. He points to polls showing a majority of West Coast residents support legalization.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., President Obama's drug czar admits the drug war isn't working. And in neighboring California, the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act has already qualified for that state's 2010 ballot.

Stanford and his co-petitioner, director Madeleine Martinez of the Oregon chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, are rolling their hopes into two initiatives already registered with the Secretary of State's Office.

First is the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, which would create an Oregon Cannabis Control Commission to license marijuana growers and processors. The weed would be sold to people over 21 in designated OCCC stores for profit, at prices set by the OCCC.

The initiative would provide pot at cost to medical patients and researchers. Growing and possessing for personal use would also be legalized for everyone 21 and older—just as it is now for anyone with a doctor's permission under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program.

The act would also allow growing industrial hemp—a practice Stanford believes would jump-start a revolution in sustainable fuel, plastics, food, paper and textiles.

Ninety percent of the cannabis profit would go to the state general fund—no small selling point in a state perpetually short of money for schools, public safety and social services (see cover story). The rest would be split among drug treatment, drug education and promoting industrial hemp.

Pot proponents have put the estimated annual profits as high as $200 million, but no one knows how legalization would affect the market. And while skeptics point out that federal law still makes marijuana illegal, Stanford says the act is written to withstand the inevitable court challenge.

The second initiative is the Oregon Cannabis Tolerance Act, which Stanford and Martinez have nicknamed "OCTA Light." It's the same as the other initiative, without mentioning hemp.

Stanford says OCTA Light came from a proposed legalization bill in the 2009 Legislature. It did not include hemp because state Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene) was sponsoring a separate bill to allow industrial hemp.

Prozanski's bill passed, letting hemp production begin when the federal government allows it. Stanford says the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act would not require the feds to sign off first.

Stanford and Martinez now are waiting for the state Attorney General's Office to approve the draft ballot titles later this month. With the titles in place, they'll begin polling to see which initiative has more support.

Then proponents can begin gathering the 100,000 valid signatures needed by July 2 from registered voters. Organizers have already hired local firm Democracy Resources to run a professional signature-gathering campaign, Martinez says.

"The most important thing now is to get each step right," Martinez says. "We have a real good feeling about this."


Other initiatives proposed for the November 2010 ballot include "Hunting of Bears and Cougars with Dogs" and "Take Legislators Off PERS" by initiative magnate Bill Sizemore and state Rep. Dennis Richardson (R-Central Point), respectively.

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