Oregon Says Yes to Marijuana

Voters approve making recreational marijuana legal

Oregon has burned down its last prohibition on marijuana.

Voters tonight approved Measure 91, which legalizes the use of recreational weed. The measure leads 54 percent to 46 percent.

The vote means that the Oregon Liquor Control Commission will tomorrow begin a year of setting rules for dispensaries, many of which are still hazy in Measure 91. Weed can be legally sold starting July 1, 2015, but the OLCC has until January 2016 to set the rules for legalized sales of recreational marijuana. The state expects to collect annual tax revenues on pot sales of between $17 million and $40 million.

As the results of the vote appeared on a projector at the Southeast Portland club Holocene, the crowd broke out in a chant of "Ninety-one! Ninety-one!"

Anthony Johnson, the measure's chief sponsor, took the stage to compare the vote to the court decision overturning Oregon's gay-marriage ban. 

"We have ended a painful, discriminatory, harmful policy," Johnson said. "Our new policy is one with more justice, more revenue for our state and, most important, more freedom and more equality."

A line formed outside Holocene 15 minutes before polls closed, as cameras watched. "So if I smoke a bowl out here, I'll be on TV, right?" a woman quipped. 

But nobody did. Inside, the club smelled of patchouli and whiskey, but not weed. Organizers spread a table with three kinds of hummus, fresh veggies and a Ranch dip dubbed "Green Goddess."

Peter Zuckerman, who managed the legalization campaign, stood away from the television lights, sipping a drink, as The Oregonian called the race. 

"I'm trying to be able to talk," he said, staring teary-eyed at the screen. "It's over. It's won."

A few minutes before 9 pm, U. S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) took the stage to congratulate supporters.

"You are going to change national policy," he said. "The marijuana legalization train has left the station. 

"It's going to pass in California," Blumenauer added, then paused. "I have to be careful not to do a Howard Dean impersonation."

The DJ played "Blurred Lines." Outside the club, a dozen people shared a two-inch joint by the bicycle racks. 

"I'm all about those bowls, 'bout those bowls," a woman sang. "No doubt." 

The victory makes Oregon the third state in the nation to legalize recreational pot, after Colorado and Washington approved ballot measures in 2012. Those states have seen multimillion-dollar industries bloom in the two years since legalizing recreational weed.

Oregon has a long history at the forefront of pot decriminalization. In 1973, it became the first state to reduce the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana to a fine. In 1998, voters passed a medical marijuana program, and more than 69,000 people in the state now have medical marijuana cards.

But Oregon voters have hesitated to approve recreational weed, rejecting ballot measures in 2010 and 2012.

Measure 91 was backed by big money, much of it from out-of-state activists and entrepreneurs expecting a new market. The "yes" campaign has reported $3.9 million in donations this year, against just $179,000 on the "no" side.