Will Oregon Legalize Pot, Despite the Odds?
The most "radical" of the three states' marijuana bills is lagging in the polls—but might just have a chance, supporters tell The Fix.
Of the three states voting on the legalization of recreational marijuana on November 6—Washington, Oregon and Colorado—Oregon's Measure 80 is faring the worst in the polls. The most recent figures show 49% opposed to the measure and 42% in favor, with the highest support coming from those under 35 (interestingly, only 32% of women back the initiative, with men more evenly divided).
There are various possible explanations for this. Of the three states' ballot measures, Measure 80 is the least well-funded, partly due to its late arrival to the ballot, in July. Whereas Washington's Initiative-502 received $5.5 million and Colorado's Amendment-64 received $3 million over six months, Measure 80 had just three months to raise about half a million dollars. Measure 80 is also the most "radical" of the three initiatives, calling for a total repeal of Oregon's marijuana laws, and allowing for privatized pot harvesting and distribution, to be regulated by a commission. It's unclear whether this all-or-nothing approach will harm or help the measure—interestingly, Washington's I-502 has lost the support of many pro-pot activists who see it as too restrictive. Like the other two initiatives, Measure 80 would allow non-medical marijuana to be sold in state-run stores only, to adults aged 21 and above.
Despite some bad omens for the yes camp, the chief petitioner and author of Measure 80, Paul Stanford, remains optimistic. About 50,000 newly registered student voters could swing the vote, he tells The Fix, citing the measure's popularity among young people. He adds that the poll numbers don't account for the "fear factor"—voters' possible reluctance to admit their support over the phone, for fear of endorsing "a taboo subject." Those who oppose the bill are "mainly concerned about health and safety," Sanford says. Some cite the "gateway theory" as a reason to vote no, claiming that marijuana use leads to other, more dangerous drugs. But Sanford argues that the measure would actually reduce drug abuse, by "taking [the drug] out of the hands of kids and substance abusers and putting it in state-regulated stores, where people are asked for ID in order to purchase." And 7% of the proceeds from marijuana sales—about $25 million a year, Sanford estimates—would go to Oregon's drug treatment centers.
Another concern for Oregonians is driving safety—although Sanford notes that a clause in Measure 80 promises to study marijuana impairment and establish new rules about impaired driving if necessary. "The one huge downside to pot being legal is that driving will most certainly get even worse in this city," says John Gordon, a 38-year-old Portland resident who claims the state already deals with "awful, slow and sloppy" drivers. Despite this, he tells The Fix that he's already cast an early vote in favor of Measure 80: "Pot being illegal makes no sense. For me, it's just a silly, arcane law and marijuana being illegal causes far more problems than it could ever hope to solve."