(I-9) OREGON CANNABIS TAX ACT: Final Push for the 2012 Ballot
Last Friday, supporters and organizers of the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act (OCTA), submitted 167,845 signatures to the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office. Now state officials will verify the signatures in order to ensure that the requisite number has been met. If enough valid signatures were collected to qualify, the OCTA will be put on the General Election ballot of 2012.
What is the OTCA?
The OCTA is a state initiative petition to regulate cannabis and restore industrial hemp. It is not a measure that would allow people to grow, sell, and smoke as much marijuana wherever and whenever they please. The petition is more complex and financially motivated.
The OCTA seeks to regulate the growth and sale of marijuana and industrial hemp. Much of the proposed regulation of marijuana mimics the way in which Oregon regulates liquor. The sale of marijuana would be limited to adults over 21. Production of marijuana for sale would require a license and be regulated by the Oregon Cannabis Commission (OCC). Production of marijuana for personal consumption would not require a license. Public consumption of marijuana, and providing marijuana to minors would also be prohibited. The OCTA also provides criminal penalties ranging from Class A misdemeanors, to Class B felonies.
The real thrust of the OCTA is the positive economic impact its supporters expect it to have on the state’s economy. Revenue generated by the OCTA will be used to fund the OCC and reimburse the Attorney General’s office for costs of enforcing the criminal provisions within the OCTA. Ninety percent of the remaining revenue generated by the regulated sale of marijuana will go into the state’s general fund to finance state programs. Seven percent will be credited to the Department of Human Resources to fund various drug abuse treatment programs. One percent will be used to create and fund an agricultural state committee for the promotion of Oregon hemp fiber, protein and oil crops and associated industries. One percent will create and fund an agricultural committee to develop and promote biodiesel fuel production from hemp seeds. The final one percent of the remaining revenue will be distributed to the state’s school districts to fund a drug education program.
Supporters of the OCTA estimate that taxing the commercial sale of marijuana would generate over $140 million a year. In addition to adding this new source of revenue, the OCTA also looks to save an estimated $61.5 million in law enforcement, corrections, and judicial costs, on the enforcement of marijuana related incidents.
Not only do supporters of the OCTA expect it lower state expenditures and increase state revenue, supporters also expect the OCTA to jumpstart the sluggish Oregon economy. The OCTA would help fund a potential Oregon hemp biodiesel industry as well as a potential Oregon fiber and food industry. Even those who have no stake or interest in the legalization of marijuana should be interested in the possible economic impacts of hemp production and processing. After all, new industry means new jobs.
What are the Odds that the OTCA Becomes Oregon Law?
There are two more hurdles before the OTCA becomes Oregon law. First, state officials must verify the signature submitted to the Secretary of the State’s office. With nearly double the number of signatures required, it would seem likely that the OTCA will make it onto the 2012 ballot. However, 40% of the early signatures submitted to the Secretary of State have been invalidated. Many more signature have been collected and submitted since then, but it is difficult to predict the number of signature which will be deemed valid.
Second, once on the ballot, voters will have to actually vote for the OTCA. Predicting an outcome is difficult, but a recent poll may indicate that the vote would be close. A Gallup poll found that nationally, 50% of people are now in favor of legalizing marijuana, while 46% are opposed. What does this mean for Oregon? I don’t know. The real question seems to be whether Oregon voters understand what supporters of the OTCA assume. The assumption is that people are going to buy, sell, produce, and use marijuana whether it is legal or not. Therefore, Oregon should regulate marijuana for economic growth as well as address safety concerns. If voters understand this underlying assumption, the OTCA may stand a chance at being voted into law.
For those who believe Oregonians take a relaxed attitude toward marijuana, remember that in 2010, voters rejected a measure to allow dispensaries to sell small amounts of marijuana to medical marijuana card holders. Polls prior to that vote indicated that 59% of people were in favor of the measure legalizing dispensaries. Not all Oregonians are pro-marijuana.
One final consideration: even if the OTCA is voted into law and marijuana is legalized in Oregon, the federal government still views marijuana as a schedule I drug. This means that in the eyes of Oregon, marijuana would be legal, yet in the eyes of the feds, you would be breaking the law. This conflict of state and federal law would most likely lead to lawsuits and lengthy battles in court.
Although the OTCA stands a good chance to make it onto the 2012 ballot, it still has a long way to go.