By Shelby Sebens | Northwest Watchdog
PORTLAND – Among the the arguments in favor of legalizing marijuana, among the least persuasive, apparently, is civil liberties. When pot becomes legal in Washington on Dec. 6, proponents will be touting the windfall in tax revenue and tourism dollars.
That could make for a compelling argument in Oregon, where a similar initiative, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, failed on Nov. 6 and money is short for such programs as education.
“The idea of being able to regulate the market and to tax it and to bring in revenue to pay for services seems a no brainer to me,” said state Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Medford. “We do it with alcohol, we do it with a number of products.”
Buckley and state Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-South Lane and North Douglas Counties, think there’s still a chance for legalized recreational marijuana in Oregon. They plan to create a working group for the session beginning February to study Washington and Colorado’s new pot laws and to analyze more than a dozen proposals being pushed in Oregon — from those that mirror Washington’s law (where the drug will be tightly regulated) to more libertarian initiatives.
There’s still the possibility that the federal government will crack down, of course, as it has with medical-marijuana operations in California, Washington and Oregon.
In the meantime, Oregonians may take their dollars across the border, bringing a whole new meaning to the long weekend in Washington. It wouldn’t be hard: Police don’t plan to check travelers for weed.
“There’s no plan to sit on the borders,” Lt. Gregg Hastings of the Oregon State Police said.
Harvard University Economics Professor Jeffrey Miron estimates Oregon could raise about $36 million a year, depending on the level of taxation. Paul Stanford, who wrote the weed measure that lost in Oregon, said his group estimated legalization could bring in about $200 million a year.
Washington officials have estimated their state will bring in $2 billion over five years.
But it’s unclear how much revenue legalization would generate in Oregon. Miron, who has written extensively on the savings of ending what he calls the prohibition of marijuana, says Oregonians don’t need to leave their state for pot: medical marijuana is already legal in Oregon and 60,000 people are cardholders, allowing them to legally grow and possess a pound and a half of weed at a time.
Even Oregon law enforcement officials acknowledge that weed isn’t hard to come by.
“Marijuana is called weed for a reason,” Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis said, adding that he questions how many people will register to sell the drug legally. “Marijuana can be grown by virtually anyone anywhere. Why in God’s name are they going to then say, ‘I’ll register with the government.’”
Marquis said marijuana in Oregon has been largely decriminalized for about 40 years. Possessing less than an ounce is a misdemeanor carrying a fine.
He thinks that current lax pot regulation is a big reason Oregon voters shot down Measure 80. The measure won only 46.9 percent of the vote.
“I would hope some of these legislators would have a little more respect for what the voters say,” Marquis said of Buckley and Prozanski moving forward.
Stanford argues his measure lost because of a shortage of campaign advertising; he’s organizing for another vote, in 2014. Buckley he’ll use 2013 to gather all sides behind an initiative, pro and con, in time for the 2014 legislative session.
Stanford is optimistic. The Oregonian Editorial Board, a day after the election, pushed the legislature to consider pot legalization, and Buckley and Prozanski are both majority party members with leverage. Prozanski is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Buckley is Co-speaker Pro Tempore of the House.
Buckley, who is from southern Oregon where the hemp fields are plentiful, said he doesn’t like the black market and that the state is missing out on revenue.
“I think that, on a positive side, we have the ability to grow a remarkable marijuana crop in the state of Oregon,” he said. “It could be a great agriculture crop for southern Oregon.”