A Message from Anthony Johnson
Chief Petitioner and co-author of Measure 91 and the Director of New Approach Oregon
Measure 91 was truly an historic victory for the Oregon cannabis community for many, many reasons and I am just so pleased to have played my part in this important achievement. Since our electoral victory on November 4th, I have been bombarded with messages of congratulations and thanks, and my response is, “Thank you! Congratulations to all of us!”
I congratulate all of us, because many, many people had to play a part in the decades-long fight to end cannabis prohibition in Oregon. The fight to end the harmful and discriminatory policy of prohibition took the collective efforts of literally thousands of people, some of whom who are no longer with us.
Of course, no legalization measure would be even considered without the advocacy of Jack Herer, who passed away in Eugene, Oregon, in 2010. The wisdom of Oregon legislators to become the first state to legalize cannabis in 1973 brought future marijuana legalization activists to Oregon and set the stage of Oregon as a trailblazer on the issue.
Beaver State activists continued the tradition of being ahead of the times by placing a marijuana legalization measure on the ballot in 1986 and then joining California as a medical marijuana state in 1998. While measures to legalize medical marijuana dispensaries didn’t garner majority support in 2004 or 2010, the Oregon Legislature legalized medical facilities finally in 2013. Measure 80 while not ultimately successful at the ballot box (or mail box, since this is Oregon after all) garnered 47% of the vote in support of legalization in 2012, giving us a glimpse of what was possible in 2014.
The effort to legalize cannabis in 2014 started immediately following Election Day in 2012. Oregon activists weighed moving forward in 2014 versus waiting until 2016. Many national and local activists urged us to wait until 2016, utilizing the bigger electorate to carry us to victory. I was initially in the “wait until 2016” camp myself, but was willing to help a 2014 effort if polling could show that victory was possible in 2014.
Drafting a marijuana legalization measure that sufficiently legalized marijuana while satisfying activists and national funders with a realistic chance of winning a majority of the votes in a midterm election proved to be a touch task. While not perfect by any means, I am very proud that Measure 91 managed to keep the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program untouched, allow for home cultivation and should set the state’s cannabis industry to follow in the footsteps of Oregon’s microbrewery and winery industries. Also, importantly, the measure didn’t institute an unscientific DUI standard or make any criminal penalties worse.
Measure 91’s deliberate, approach was one of the reasons we were able to earn more votes than incumbent state officials. One of the deliberate measures taken was to wait until July 1, 2015, to legalize personal use and cultivation. However, four county district attorneys have already declared that they will treat marijuana as if Measure 91 were implemented. All of the counties (Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington and Curry) were counties that Measure 91 passed, so it is great that elected district attorneys are following the will of the voters. Four more counties are taking a case-by-case review of marijuana charges; a few remain undecided, while the rest of the counties have declared that they will needlessly keep prosecuting people until July 1st.
Another deliberate approach of Measure 91 was waiting until January 2016 until the state has to start accepting license applications for licensed producers, processors, wholesalers and retailers. In the meantime, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission will hold rule-making hearings and we must brave through a legislative session where some legislators may be looking to pass additional rules and regulations.
New Approach Oregon, the political action committee responsible for Measure 91, will remain active during rule-making hearings and the legislative session to ensure that the will of the voters is met. The Measure 91 campaign clearly campaigned on two things: 1) marijuana should be regulated similar to beer and wine; and 2) the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program should not be detrimentally impacted. We will be working hard to remind legislators and policy makers about the fact that more than 56% of voters supported New Approach’s message and will do our best to ensure that regulations are in line with the rules governing the beer and wine industry and that the rights of patients aren’t infringed upon.
While we have already heard troubling rhetoric from some legislators about the medical program, folks should keep in mind that the medical program has been under attack every legislative session. It is imperative that we remain vigilant, contact our representatives and attend important hearings to continually remind our elected officials that the will of the voters should be met or there will be political consequences. The Oregon cannabis community has been mostly successful stopping bad legislation and we will need to remain active to protect the gains that we have made.
Prohibitionists will be looking towards implementing burdensome taxes and allowing localities to easily outlaw retail establishments. Measure 91 explicitly declares that only the state can tax marijuana and lays out the mechanism for outlawing licensed establishments through an electoral vote. Allowing arbitrary taxation and opt-out mechanisms that don’t call for a vote of the people goes against the will of the voters and the priorities of both the state and federal governments as they will only encourage unlicensed sales.
As we work to protect our gains and sensibly implement cannabis regulations, it is imperative that we remember that the world is watching and that Oregon’s legalization regime will greatly impact the legalization efforts of other states in 2016 and beyond. While it is a great accomplishment to end the unnecessary arrests and citations of more than 10,000 people every year in Oregon, we must remember that we need to legalize cannabis state by state until the cannabis community is free across the country. Here’s to more freedom, equality and prosperity in Oregon and beyond!
Anthony Johnson is the Director of New Approach Oregon, the political action committee responsible for the successful 2014 ballot measure that legalized marijuana in Oregon. Anthony was the Chief Petitioner and co-author of Measure 91, helping formulate campaign strategy and serving as the campaign’s primary spokesperson. He is also Content Director of the International Cannabis Business Conference to help further mainstream and professionalize the cannabis industry. You can stay up-to-date with Anthony’s work at www.newapproachoregon.com, www.internationalcbc.com, his Facebook page and by following@anthonyj1977 on Twitter.