Oregon lawmakers say they may want to take a crack during next year’s short legislative session at passing a bill to let state voters decide whether they want to legalize marijuana.
The idea is sound: Legislative leaders such as Rep. Phil Barnhart, the Democrat who represents Eugene (and, oddly enough, some of the rural areas of Linn County), say they can see momentum building in Oregon to legalize pot, and so they’d rather tackle the details themselves rather than leave it to a ballot measure.
The timing, however, is dreadful.
The time to do this would have been earlier this year, in the full legislative session. But legislators steered clear, despite advice from marijuana advocates who told them, in essence, “Hey, you legislators are the pros at this; don’t leave it up to us, because we’ll just screw it up.“
Exhibit A on that account is Ballot Measure 80, a pro-marijuana initiative that Oregon voters were wise to reject in 2012. It was an oddball piece of proposed public policy that would have turned Oregon public officials into ambassadors for hemp.
Since then, though, voters in Colorado and Washington state have approved initiatives to legalize the personal use of marijuana, and the federal Department of Justice has decided to keep its legal mitts off those states. And national polls have suggested that, for the first time, a majority of Americans approve legalizing marijuana.
“We can see the writing on the wall,” Barnhart told the Salem Statesman-Journal newspaper. “We ought to write the law we want.”
In fact, proponents of legalization in Oregon have said they’ll go ahead with their own initiative if the Legislature doesn’t move forward.
Here’s the problem, though: Next year’s legislative session, scheduled to begin in February, is a short five-week affair. And, judging by the way Gov. John Kitzhaber has been talking, prospects seem good that the short session will be dominated by issues such as taxation and public-pension reform — especially if the governor’s efforts to convene a special session at the end of this month fall short.
So it’s not a good time to launch what likely would be a fairly complicated piece of legislation.
The only way this would have a chance of being approved in a short session would be if the legislation was ready to go before the start of the session — and if legislators already were on board with the measure.
Barnhart said the next step would be to form a committee of House and Senate leaders to start working on the proposal. The sooner that happens, the better — because next year’s version of Measure 80 likely already is waiting in the wings.