Once upon a time - 36 years ago, to be exact, when Gov. Tom McCall signed a bill making Oregon the first state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot - our state was a forerunner in the fight for sensible marijuana policies. Since then we've fallen behind, but we may have a chance to play catch-up next year.
As reported in Willamette Week, a group of pot activists is hoping to put an initiative called the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act on the ballot in 2010. If it passes, the act will create something called the Oregon Cannabis Control Commission, which would sell grass to buyers 21 and over. Ninety percent of the profits would go to the state's general fund and 10% would be earmarked for drug treatment. Supporters say the act could generate upwards of $200 million a year.
"Activists last put a legalization measure on the ballot in 1986," Willy Week writes. "It got just 26 percent support. But after decades fighting to legalize pot in Oregon, they believe the public has come around. National polls consistently track more than 40 percent support for legalization, and recent Oregon polls have shown the same."
Willamette Week took the trouble to interview some prominent Oregon politicians about pot legalization, and got some surprising responses.
One came from state Rep. Jeff Barker, who as "an ex-Portland cop and a recovering alcoholic [and] a 65-year-old conservative Democrat who represents suburban Aloha" is one of the last people you'd expect to back legalization. But he says he'd have no problem with it. "I don't mind spending money to lock up violent people, but marijuana just ain't even close," he said.
Less surprising was the reply of state Attorney General John Kroger, who according to WW is "firmly" against legalization. If marijuana becomes legal, he predicted, "It's going to be everywhere, literally. You're going to have people dropping by Whole Foods to buy the really expensive organic stuff."
To which The Eye's immediate response is: "So?"
In an interview with Source reporters and editors yesterday, Kroger reiterated his stand against legalization - but he didn't sound quite as adamant as he did in the Willamette Week story.
Kroger drew a sharp line between pot and truly destructive drugs such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, saying he's "less passionate" about cracking down on the former. "It's just a different animal," he said.
While emphasizing again that he'd prefer not to see Oregon awash in pungent pot smoke, he remarked that if the legalization initiative passes "we'll live with it," even adding: "I think you can make a serious argument for [legalizing] marijuana."
Obviously, unless the social and political climate in Oregon changes drastically in the next year or so, it would be political suicide for any attorney general to support legalization of marijuana. But there's a big difference between an AG expressing mild opposition and one who mounts a full-bore campaign against it. And the impression we get is that Kroger is not prepared to go to the mattresses on this one.
Which, after all, makes sense, and John Kroger is nothing if not a sensible man. He sees as well as anybody - in fact, probably better than most - the colossal waste of time, effort and money involved in investigating, arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating people for possessing a substance that's far more benign than tobacco or booze, much less heroin, coke or meth.