Oregon will soon qualify as the third US state to ask voters in November to legalize marijuana for recreational use in a move that could put the state on a collision course with the federal government, proponents said on Friday.
Backers of the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act said they have collected 165,000 signatures on petitions seeking to put the measure on the ballot, nearly double the 87,000 they were required to submit by Friday’s deadline to qualify.
“We believe we’re going to make it easily,” said Paul Stanford, the chief petitioner and founder of the Hemp and Cannabis Foundation, which runs medical marijuana clinics in several states.
The state has 30 days to verify if enough signatures are valid to qualify any measure for the ballot, Oregon elections director Steve Trout said.
If passed by voters in November, the act would allow marijuana sales in the state to people over the age of 21 and would create jobs in the hemp industry by allowing its use for clothing, food and other things, the campaign’s Web site said.
Similar ballot measures to legalize marijuana for recreational use have already qualified in Washington state and Colorado. No state has legalized pot for recreational use, but 17 states and the District of Columbia allow medical cannabis even though marijuana remains an illegal narcotic under federal law.
The Oregon move comes as federal authorities have cracked down on medical marijuana in several western states, seeking to shut down dispensaries and greenhouses they deem to be drug-trafficking fronts, as well as those located near schools and parks. US President Barack Obama’s administration has said it would not single out individual patients who possess or grow their own marijuana in states that allow it. However, federal prosecutors have warned they will continue to go after operations that support for-profit, illegal drug dealing under the guise of medical pot.
If passed, the Oregon initiative would create a Cannabis Commission that could limit the amount of marijuana a person could purchase and would oversee cultivation and retail sales at special stores. Net proceeds from sales would go to the state’s general fund.
Under the proposal, marijuana possession would be decriminalized although public pot consumption would be prohibited and subject to a fine of US$250.
Proponents of legalizing marijuana say prohibition of the drug simply enriches criminal cartels and that legalization will allow law enforcement to focus on serious crimes.
Sheriff John Trumbo of Oregon’s rural Umatilla County, is staunchly opposed to recreational legalization and said allowing the drug would open a floodgate of problems — from the expense of providing new training to police for dealing with people driving under the influence of the drug.
“Legalizing marijuana will be the downfall of society as we know it,” he said. “I’ve been packing a badge for 40 years and I have seen what marijuana has done to families and individuals. It is a gateway drug.”
Tom Parker, spokesman for the substance abuse group Lines for Life, said he also was concerned about greater availability of marijuana to young people.
“Teen brains are still developing,” he said. “Greater availability of marijuana is not a good thing for youth.”