Initiative to legalize marijuana will go on Oregon ballot in November

Initiative to legalize marijuana will go on Oregon ballot in November »Play Video
This July 1, 2014, photo shows packets of a variety of recreational marijuana named "Space Needle" during packaging operations at Sea of Green Farms in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon voters will decide whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use after state elections officials on Tuesday said the measure qualified for the November ballot.

The measure would allow adults 21 and older to buy and possess marijuana and would give the Oregon Liquor Control Commission the job of regulating and taxing the drug.

Voters rejected a legalization measure two years ago, but little money was spent promoting it. By contrast, New Approach Oregon, the group behind the initiative, has received contributions from some of the same donors who backed successful marijuana initiatives in Washington and Colorado.

The group submitted roughly 88,500 valid signatures — about 1,400 more than required, election workers said.

"We will ensure that all voters are aware that this is a completely different measure than the measure in 2012," said Anthony Johnson, director of New Approach Oregon. "This measure is much more regulated and restrictive, and we've taken the best from Colorado and Washington and believe that Oregonians are ready to pass a well-regulated measure such as this one."

Law enforcement officials, including sheriffs and district attorneys, oppose the measure. Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis said it makes no sense to increase access to intoxicants.

"We've not done a good job in our state or our society keeping alcohol — a very, very toxic drug — out of the hands of the people who need it the least, which are kids," Marquis said.

Kevin Sabet, director of anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, wondered about the push to legalize marijuana in a state that already has lax penalties for the drug. Possessing up to an ounce of marijuana draws a citation and fine, not a criminal charge.

"I think they're smart and they're going to see what this is about, which is money," Sabet said. "It's going to make a couple of guys rich who are going to profit off the new tobacco industry."

In downtown Portland Tuesday volunteers with New Approach Oregon said the focus now is on registering voters.

“Oregonians will have an opportunity in a few short months to be on the right side of history,” Dominic Lopez, an organizer with New Approach Oregon told KATU.

One of the volunteers out reminding people to register was 63-year-old Meg Cowie, a grandmother of eight who’s never used marijuana in her life, but believes this initiative is a positive step for Oregon.

“We've been trying the war on drugs since 1972--I was 21 in in 1972. I think that experiment has failed,” Cowie told KATU.

KATU's Emily Sinovic contributed to this report.

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