What Next for the Pot Campaigners Who Lost?
Oregon and Arkansas rejected their recreational and medical marijuana bills. But backers tell The Fix they're ready for the next round.
Marijuana legalization initiatives passed in Washington and Colorado yesterday—but not in Oregon, where only 45% of voters were in favor (according to the latest updates). Measure 80, which was considered the most "radical" of the three states' initiatives, would have repealed Oregon's pot laws outright, allowing private harvesting and distribution under the control of a commission. It had been lagging in the polls, which many attributed to a lack of funding due to its late arrival on the ballot in July. "If we'd had a million dollars, we would've won," Paul Stanford, the chief petitioner and author of Measure 80, tells The Fix. (The Washington and Colorado campaigns raised several million each, whereas Oregon's only raised half a mil). Stanford says advocates will continue to push the legislature to pass a bill in the next year, adding that the now-Democratic control of the House will work in their favor, as will the state's pot-friendly history (it was the first state to decriminalize it in 1973). He also believes that legalization in neighboring Washington will help—since people will now be able to buy weed legally one state over: "Our legislature doesn't want us crossing the border [to purchase pot]. They'd rather see us spend our tax money here." Whether a bill passes within two years, or shows up again on the ballot in 2014, Stanford is sure of one thing: "I'm going to keep going until we win. I'm an optimist."
Down in Arkansas, a bill for medical marijuana burned out as well—but not without a fight. A proposal to make AR the first southern state to legalize MMJ was rejected by 52% of voters. Chris Kell, the campaign strategist for Arkansans for Compassionate Care, tells The Fix that the narrow loss was due to the "onslaught of propaganda and misinformation that the opposition put out there"—specifically the Arkansas Family Council. "Their whole campaign claimed this was a back door to full legalization—but that's completely false." Despite the outcome, the fact that the issue made the ballot at all—and lost only narrowly—in the conservative state represents significant progress for the MMJ movement. "It almost passed. It was a close election," an Arkansas judge tells The Fix. "And the polls indicated that the people are compassionate and are inclined to want to allow suffering people that opportunity [to use medical pot]." He cites the measure's "grow-your-own provision" (to allow people to grow six plants on their own property if they live more than five miles from a dispensary) as one reason the measure failed: "That's too much for folks to handle. And who's going to go out and count how many plants?" But he says rumor has it the provision will be removed before MMJ returns to the ballot in two years, and if it does, "I predict it will pass overwhelmingly next time."