|Citizens for Sensible Law Enforcement|
By Ron Georg
Special to Toke of the Town
While the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA 2012) is riding a wave of publicity following Willie Nelson’s recent endorsement, a second legalization initiative is quietly garnering signatures across Oregon, and chief petitioner Bob Wolfe said his group Citizens for Sensible Law Enforcement is on track to collect the 116,000 signatures they’ll need to get Initiative Petition 24 on the November ballot.
Oregon’s first attempt at legalization by citizen initiative — 1986’s Ballot Measure 5 — failed by a three-to-one margin. In part, that was a reflection of the times; Reagan-era America probably wasn’t quite ready. Many advocates also believe voters were frightened at the prospect of an unregulated, anarchistic marijuana industry.
That led to more comprehensive legalization initiatives, like California’s failed Prop 19, which spelled out all the regulatory details. But that strategy seems to have doomed Prop 19, which failed to unify weed supporters, especially medical marijuana advocates. Similar divisions are bedeviling Washington’s Initiative 502.
|Bob Wolfe of Citizens for Sensible Law Enforcement speaks at an Oregon Marijuana Policy Initiative campaign rally in Portland, Oregon|
So far, OCTA 2012 seems to have broader appeal, with specific provisions to protect the popular Oregon Medical Marijuana Program. Still, Wolfe believes voters will respond better to a simpler approach.
“I believe that if you try to impose a fully-formed new marijuana economy on the citizens, they’re going to rebel; they’re going to find it confusing,” Wolfe told Toke of the Town.
Instead of a statutory framework, IP 24 proposes a one-paragraph constitutional amendment, which would take weed out of the hands of law enforcement.
It boils down to one crucial sentence: “[N]either the criminal offenses and sanctions nor the laws of civil seizure and forfeiture of this state shall apply to the private personal use, possession or production of marijuana by adults 21 years of age and older.”
Most initiatives have touted the benefits of legalization, but that can amount to promoting pot, which makes some voters uncomfortable. Wolfe argues that shifting the focus to the injustice of criminalizing a popular, harmless activity brings more voters on board.
“The majority of Oregonians, if you simply ask them, ‘Do you want to legalize marijuana?’, the majority will say ‘Yes,'” Wolfe said. “But if you ask them the question, ‘Should people go to jail for growing a plant or two for themselves?’, over 70 percent say ‘No.'”
IP 24 will leave the details to the Legislature, where they’ll have to operate according to a new constitutional reality. Citizens for Sensible Law Enforcement have already earned their stripes at the legislative level, helping to shoot down enhanced penalties for possession in the last session, and Wolfe said they’re preparing policy papers to help guide future legislation.
There’s no doubt that process will be contentious. “But no matter what, we’ll have enshrined into law the basic principle that adults in Oregon don’t suffer criminal penalties for smoking a little marijuana,” Wolfe said.
Both OCTA 2012 and IP 24 seem on track to gather enough signatures to make the ballot. IP 24 has a higher threshold to meet — since it’s a constitutional amendment — but Wolfe has 242 paid petitioners on the street, and he’s confident they’ll collect the 185,000 names he believes he’ll need to get the required 116,000 verified signatures.
While having both initiatives on the November ballot could cause some voter confusion, they aren’t in conflict. If both pass, one will strengthen the other, with IP 24’s constitutional authority adding weight to OCTA 2012’s regulatory structure.
If IP 24 has seemed under the radar, that’s part of Wolfe’s strategy. He wants a concise, focused debate on a single question, and that means keeping it short.
Besides, he said the signature drive doesn’t have much need for advance publicity to raise awareness. “We never hear the question, ‘What’s marijuana?'”
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