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Will Oregon Legalize Marijuana In 2014 Or 2016?


oregon cannabisLoyal readers know that I am a lifelong Oregonian, and I have been a long time marijuana activists here. Not as long as some of the veterans, but I have been fighting for reform for about half my life, and I feel that I know what I’m talking about when it comes to marijuana reform in my state. When you throw in the fact that I have a degree in Public Policy from a university that is not too far from the state capital, I think it strengthens my credibility even more. For some reason, what I say in person doesn’t matter much in most marijuana reform circles in and outside of Oregon, but fortunately thanks to our readers, I have a pretty large soap box to shout from here on the internet.

I have received quite a few e-mails lately from people asking my opinion on whether Oregon should pursue marijuana legalization in 2014 or 2016. My answer? Both. If I’m forced to choose, then my answer is 2014. I know that a lot of activists both inside and outside of Oregon disagree with me, but let me say my piece and see if you still feel that way. It seems like anyone that is against pursuing marijuana legalization in 2014 points to the fact that it is not a presidential election year. I always point out that if that is indeed the biggest determining factor, then why is any state pursuing any marijuana reform in 2014? Last time I checked almost every state was pursuing it in 2014 because after Colorado and Washington passed legalization in 2012 the entire political landscape changed.

People will always say that ‘other states are polling higher than Oregon right now,’ and that’s why they should pursue a tax and regulate (TR) system, while Oregon should wait. I always point out to these people that Oregon is the only state right now that doesn’t have legalization, yet has the ultimate poll – the 2012 election results for Oregon Measure 80. Oregon Measure 80 received almost 47% of the vote in this last election. Other states can have all the ‘pretend’ polling in the world, full of hypothetical examples, but they will never be as accurate as election results.

Almost 47% of 2012 Oregon voters voted for UNLIMITED cultivation and possession of marijuana. Almost 47% of Oregon voted for UNLIMITED cultivation and possession of marijuana despite the fact that the campaign was run with virtually no money, and didn’t get any financial assistance from national organizations or large donors (well, except Willie Nelson!). Name one other state that you could ask the voters straight up or down ‘do you want marijuana to be legal with  no constraints’ and have 47% of the voters say yes, despite the fact that there was virtually no public awareness campaign behind the question? Looking at how heavily regulated Washington and Colorado’s models are, I doubt even they could get as much support for such a loose system.

If organizations and large donors are going to back campaigns in 2014 in other states, but won’t do it in Oregon, that just simply doesn’t make sense to me. If it was an all or nothing thing, and organizations and donors weren’t backing anything in any state in 2014, I would understand. But to choose other states over Oregon based off of polling seems ridiculous to me. If marijuana reform had never, ever had a victory in a non-presidential election year, then I would maybe feel different. But marijuana reform has had at least one major victory in a non-presidential year that I can think of…um, Oregon 1998 anyone?

What a lot of out-of-staters don’t take into account is that Oregon holds it’s Governor’s race in non-presidential election years. So while voter turnout isn’t quite as large as it is during presidential years, it’s still significant. And when one considers the demographics of Oregon politics, things seem even less stark. Oregon votes mostly Democrat. And we know that Democrats are much more likely to vote for legalization than Republicans (although that divide is narrowing!). Oregon is so Democrat that we haven’t elected a Republican in a statewide race in over a decade. In fact, races such as Attorney General and Treasurer often don’t even have a Republican candidate on the ballot. After a race in 2010 that saw the Governor decided by a razor thin margin, things are going to be heated in 2014. National Democrat organizations are going to be pouring in efforts and money to bring out as many voters in Oregon as possible. This will have an effect on any marijuana reform measure as well.

I was once part of a staff for an Oregon initiative that would have legalized marijuana in 2012 (separate from Measure 80). I got to sit in one of the most powerful Dem offices and talk to political experts outside of the marijuana movement about how we can work together. Those experts knew that marijuana legalization would bring out voters that they normally couldn’t get to the ballot box, and that those voters would heavily lean Democrat. They wanted to work together, and I guarantee the same thing will happen in 2014 if there is an initiative or referral.

2012 saw a legalization measure make the ballot in Oregon, despite almost no help from national organizations. That same measure was a little over 3% away from victory, despite no help from national organizations. If there was a legalization measure that had some reasonable constraints, with a reasonable amount of money backing it, it would win in 2014 or 2016. I will agree that 2016 is better. But I don’t agree that 2014 would be a losing effort, as long as there is reasonable support from national organizations. I think before people pass judgement on Oregon, they need to do more homework. I’m so tired of my state being left out of the loop even though we lead the way in so many areas of marijuana reform. I truly hope we join Washington and legalize marijuana in Oregon in 2014. If you disagree, feel free to place your comments below because I am VERY interested in having a discussion about this. Or, if you agree, also place your comments below so that we can show national organizations that there is more support in Oregon than they think!

P.S. – For more on Oregon’s marijuana movement and politics, please ask Dwight Holton…


About Author

Johnny Green


  1. alaskan peasant on

    the only reason why california and oregon did not legalize, is because the underground grow industry is larger than washington’s. BC also has a large grow industry. And so BC, Oregon, and California have to first combat the conservatives, then they have to fight the money hungry weed growers. Folks in BC know its the growers getting in the way with legalization; and I talked to a grower from Cali and he is actually the first one that told me before california’s election several years ago that all his grower friends are against it. It makes sense…capitalism and narrow mindedness always work against public interest.

  2. I think Oregon should do it in 2014 the sooner the better. Why miss out on the tax $

  3. You’re gonna get middle man prices after the state taxes it. Besides, good smoke isn’t easy (or cheap) to grow, unless you smoke chemy. Cheap smoke however is cheap and easy, but to lump all cannabis into one price bracket is like doing the same with beer or wine. There’s good stuff and cheap stuff, and discerning costumers know the difference.

  4. The Jeannie is out of the bottle! I’ve lived here my entire life and Prohibition has never worked for marijuana or alcohol ever! Can’t stop it, Oregon needs to get on board to have the tax revenue, plus it would make it more difficult for the kids to get a hold of it sooner. Just think of all the money the State will save so on law enforcement, courts and jails. I’m thinking that number is in the millions, then taxes and fees collected; the State can really benefit huge!

  5. A number of us have already had lengthy sit downs with Legislators. This is the first time since the passage of the OMMA that we, both, Medical and Legalization, have the ears of listening from a positive point of view. We were told they wanted to get work on Safe Access and OMMP fixes now during 2013 and jump into legalization 2014. My tenure in the movements since the beginning, as a
    former, ACMM Chair now VP, former CEO of Oregon Green Free and Chief Petitioner of M74 has never been seen in such a positive light for us all. Feburary 7th at 3 pm will be the first hearing concerning SB281, the stand alone PTSD as a qualifer Please be there if possible..

    Jim Klahr
    Compassionate Oregon

  6. scott vollandt on

    Theres no chance that it could pass in a MIDTERM election! WITHOUT the younger voters under 30, it has NO CHANCE! Amendment 64 and I-502 could not have won without them. Theres always a huge drop off in voter turnout in a midterm election especially among younger voters than a presidential election. Older voters overwhelmingly oppose marijuana legalization and thats whos going to be at the polls.

  7. DavidTheExpert on

    I think you’re right again. Measure 80 was the most lenient of the three, and that might have scared off some voters. Most of the restrictions with I-502 seemed ridiculous to us, but they did help to put a lot of voters at ease.

    And yeah, some advertising definitely couldn’t hurt. When voters are uneducated on a ballot measure, their default reaction is to vote ‘No’ and maintain the status quo. They feel safer keeping things the way they are than venturing into the unknown. An education campaign before the election next time will go a long way, especially with older voters.

    It’s going to be really easy to get OR to pass legalization next time, especially with your Washingtonian neighbors already enjoying their new freedoms and tax dollars. I think we have to be careful not to dedicate too much of our resources to an already victorious battle. What I’d really like to see is legalization in Massachusetts or anywhere else in New England. It will be strategically beneficial for legalization to spread to the east coast, but it will be a much tougher fight.

  8. johnnygreen

    I feel that if Oregon Measure 80 had something closer to Amendment 64, even without a campaign, it would have passed. Or, if Measure 80 had even 20 percent of the help CO or WA got, it would have passed. At the end of the day the people with the money make the decisions, so I will just have to wait and see.

    If we do have to wait until 2016, I hope the national organizations just save all their money until then instead of spending it on a public awareness campaign in between. It would almost be a waste in this state. Oregon already has the sentiment and votes, we just need the money for signature gatherers to get it on the ballot, and enough money when the campaign season hits to actually let people know that it’s time to vote. I talked to so many people that would have voted for Measure 80 had they just found out about it during the campaign. But sadly there were barely any lawn signs, or commercials, or any campaign outside of Oregonians for Law Reform. It broke my soul there for a little while!

  9. DavidTheExpert on

    Johnny, I agree with your whole article. I definitely think that if any state is ready to legalize in 2014, it’s Oregon. They came so close in 2012, and I think the people who voted No immediately realized their mistake once CO and WA passed it. All those dollars leaving the state.

    But then again, most of the political experts all seem to agree that a presidential election year would give any state a better chance than on a midterm year, so who am I to argue? It would be kind of inspiring to see a huge wave of 6 or 7 states all pass legalization at the same time in 2016.

    So I would love to see more states legalize sooner than later, and OR is in an especially good position to do so. But if it means conserving resources and gathering more momentum, I can see why 2016 would be better. Either way, the next time OR gets it on the ballot, it’s going to pass.

  10. johnnygreen

    I actually debated what the best grammar was :) I changed it back and forth multiple times but ‘Democratic’ just sounded funny in my head. Maybe ‘national Democrats’ would side step the whole thing? I’m more than willing to edit it if popular vote says so! Any thoughts on 2014 versus 2016?

  11. DavidTheExpert on

    This is correct. Although I understand the author’s reluctance to use “Democratic” as it most often refers to our form of government rather than the political party. But he does use it so many times, he should probably edit it a bit.

  12. Every possible chance we have of working towards legalization we should be pushing for it. Once we stop we loose momentum, the idea is to continue moving forward regardless of of little or how slowly.

  13. If you want legalization, then vote yes. Voting no on a legalization initiative just because it isn’t perfect just extends prohibition and inflicts more suffering. Stop the madness and just say yes to cannabis freedom. Voting no doesn’t legalize a damn thing.

  14. Just give us our legal marijuana already. I’m tired of black market and middleman prices. I smoke weed daily and can get it easily. The war on marijuana is a failure.

  15. Johnny Bloomington on

    I was under the opinion that 2016 would be better to push legalization. However, you made some good points. I think you could get it done if the future initiative has tighter restrictions (at least like Colorado’s) and get the funds from out of state. If you can get that then try for 2014!

  16. I was at the MPP talk and the first thing that struck me was the speaker’s insistence on talking about midterm elections since 2000 not being successful for marijuana reform efforts. This seemed overly convenient for me because, as you point out in the article, Oregon passed OMMA in 1998–the midterm election immediately before the time period he referenced.
    Another point worth noting, I think, is that Oregon passed our medical marijuana law directly on the heels of California’s opening the gate with Prop 215 when Clinton was elected for a 2nd term in 1996. With that in mind, there is at least some historical precedent in our favor for 2014, directly following Colorado and Washington legalizing during the re-election of a Democratic President.

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