Lawmakers on marijuana in Oregon: 'We can see the writing on the wall'

SALEM, Ore. (AP) Leaders in the Oregon House say momentum is building to legalize marijuana in Oregon, so the Legislature itself should write a ballot measure in hopes of getting a law that's well thought out.

Two years ago, Oregon voters rejected a marijuana law written by advocate Paul Stanford. That was the same year voters in Colorado and Washington approved marijuana legalization in campaigns financed in part by backers who shunned Stanford's measure as poorly conceived and written.

The Washington and Colorado elections and the Obama administration's decision not to thwart them have persuaded leading Oregon legislators that, even if they oppose the idea of legal pot, the Legislature should put a proposal in front of voters next year, the Salem Statesman Journal reported Thursday.

"We can see the writing on the wall," said Democratic Rep. Phil Barnhart of Eugene, chairman of the revenue committee. "We ought to write the law we want. (The law) that we think will best accomplish the long-term goal of doing the best we can for the people of Oregon."

House Speaker Tina Kotek, a Portland Democrat, has expressed similar sentiments to others, said the minority leader, Republican Mike McLane of Powell Butte.

"The speaker has indicated to me that we run that risk if we do nothing," McLane said. "I think that's reasonable."

The Statesman Journal said Kotek was unavailable for comment. Her spokesman, Jared Mason-Gere, told The Associated Press that McLane's account was accurate.

Anthony Johnson, director of New Approach Oregon, has told the paper the Legislature should write the measure, but his group would move forward with an initiative if it doesn't. Stanford said his organization, the Oregon branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, is working on two marijuana initiative petitions.

The Legislature has scheduled a five-week session early in 2014.

If the legislature hopes to pass a measure then for the fall ballot, Barnhart said, a committee of both House and Senate members should be formed soon to look at the judicial, legal and health impacts of legalization and potentially draft a measure.

Barnhart said the legislation should try to break up "criminal gangs" that sell marijuana, create age restrictions, regulate dispensaries the way the state does with alcohol, and use taxes generated through marijuana sales to support substance abuse treatment programs.

McLane cited the tangled legal disputes that followed Measure 37, a land use measure from 2004, and said he didn't want a similar outcome with marijuana legalization.

So, even though he is likely to vote against legalization, he and other Republicans might vote in favor of a sending a referral to the ballot.

"I'm a pragmatist," he said.

Barnhart echoed the sentiment.

"I wouldn't say (Republicans) are overwhelmingly joyful about it; I'm not either," Barnhart said.


Information from: Statesman Journal,

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press