Oregon joins Colorado and Washington by legalizing recreational cannabis

T

he first state to
decriminalize cannabis, Oregon voted to pass ballot measure I-91, which decriminalizes
the sale of recreational herb. The measure will be rolled out in two stages: On
July 1st 2015, growing and production facilities will be able to
begin operation, while retailers will begin opening their doors one year later.

Alaska and the District of
Columbia also passed legalization measures, while a medical cannabis law failed
to pass in Florida.

“People put in such hard
work, not only on this campaign, but for decades,” Anthony Johnson, the
measure’s lead petitioner told Culture.
“I’m excited for Oregon and I’m excited for other states, as we move forward to
legalize in more states in 2016 and beyond.”

The race was too close to
predict all the way up to election day, with some questioning whether young
people would choose to vote in a non-presidential year. After morning polls
showed the vote heading for defeat, the measure shot to 63 percent in favor, as
polls closed, with the results being called soon after.

Even Johnson was shocked at
how quickly the race was called. “You can check my texts to people right before
the polls closed. I said honestly, my gut tells me 51-49 . . . I thought if we
had conveyed out message well enough and if we had persuaded some voters who
wouldn’t have normally voted for us, maybe we’d get a few more percentage
points. And it looks like that’s the case.”

The final results had the
measure passing at closer to 56 percent.

It appears that the broad
strategy of Johnson’s group, New Approach Oregon, was responsible for the
overwhelming result. Where past campaigns in the state featured bright green
marketing materials, all New Approach’s used blue. But, the real difference was
in the demographics the group went after: A well-funded marketing campaign
featured a retired teacher, retired Oregon Supreme Court judge and others from
both the policy and enforcement side.

Leah Maurer, who attended the
New Approach’s victory party on behalf of a group of mothers in favor of the
measure, was equally excited about its drug education and law enforcement preclusions.

“I think this is going to
have a huge positive effect on moms, and especially kids in Oregon, because now
they’ll be able to receive factual drug education in schools. Now, our law
enforcement won’t be distracted by arresting thousands of adults every year for
small amounts of marijuana. They’ll be able to focus on more violent crime.
And, now it will be regulated and off the streets.”

A large amount of the taxes
collected on cannabis sales will go toward law enforcement, schools and
drug-specific educational programs.

Speaking to the enthusiastic
election night crowd, early cannabis advocate, Congressman Earl Blumenauer,
noted that the measure passed by a wider margin than Colorado and Washington
State’s were able to in 2012, an election year. Blumenauer, a Democrat from Southeast
Portland, who also won re-election the same night, promised to work for
cannabis reforms on the national level, particularly regarding the use of hemp
and the requirement that cannabis shops be cash-only establishments.

Of the latter, he remarked,
“it’s unfair and it’s going to change, and I think we might be able to do it in
the lame-duck session.”

The following week, Oregon’s
most populous county, Multnomah, was the first to respond to the measure, by dismissing
all current cannabis-related cases on its books. Also, Oregon’s most urban
county, I-91 passed with an overwhelming 71 percentage points. Oregon’s more
rural counties—some of which have fought to ban dispensaries in the past—have
yet to announce their plans.

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