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Anthony Johnson: Paving the Road to Legalization in Oregon

The man behind Measure 91, which would legalize marijuana in Oregon if passed by voters in November, explains what makes his pot initiative different. CelebStoner's Oregon-based blogger Doug McVay sits down with the director of New Approach Oregon, Anthony Johnson.

Why don't you tell us about the Measure 91?

Measure 91 will regulate, legalize and tax marijuana, very similar to how the state treats beer and wine. It allows for limited home cultivation, similar to how we allow home brewing, and it will set up licensed and regulated stores - licensed, regulated, and audited by the state - that will create jobs and generate millions of dollars of revenue for education, public safety, and mental health and substance abuse treatment. It will immediately end the arrest and citation of thousands of Oregonians. It ends criminal penalties for marijuana possession and will set up a regulated system to generate millions of dollars for the state. Additionally, this measure would help other states that are moving toward cannabis legalization/regulation in 2016. We have a great chance of victory, but we could use help not only from Oregonians but supporters of cannabis law reform all across the country. Go to VoteYesOn91.com. You can read the measure, sign up as a supporter or a volunteer, and of course make a donation. Every donation helps, whether it's $100, $1,000, 25 bucks or 5 bucks. It's real important to have as many contributors as possible. So, please go to VoteYesOn91.com and lend your support.

Could you go through a few of the differences between the Washington law that passed back in 2012 and your initiative?

'New Approach Oregon's Measure 91 is a different measure than any measure that's been on the ballot anywhere.'

The director of the New Approach Oregon, Anthony Johnson.

It's really a new approach from all legalization measures, and unlike New Approach Washington's I-502. For instance, Measure 91 allows each household to cultivate four plants. And we don't have a per se DUI provision. There's no 5 ng of THC in your bloodstream equals an automatic DUI. The measure explicitly protects the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program and mandates that the Oregon Liquor Control Commission not impose any rules or regulations upon the medical program. And additionally, we spell out exactly where the money is going - 40% to education and 25% to mental health and substance abuse treatment programs as well as drug prevention. Another key difference is the taxation. We believe we have a much more reasonable tax structure that taxes marijuana one time, at $35 an ounce for flower, $10 an ounce for leaf and $5 for every plant that's sold. There's not the multiple taxation levels and not the taxation on percentage of sales, so you'll see a lower tax than what we've seen in Washington and even a lower tax than what we've seen in Colorado. Plus, Measure 91 allows for what's called “vertical integration,” so if you're a cultivator who also wants to have a retail outlet, you can do both - kind of cut out the middle person and provide lower prices for your clients and consumers. So, we have a lot of differences between the New Approach Oregon and New Approach Washington. 

We think Measure 91 has taken really the best aspects of Washington and Colorado and forged something that will work great for Oregonians. It's a measure that Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance has called the new gold standard as far as legalization measures go. It's a measure that cannabis law reform activists can definitely support and even moderate “soccer mom” voters can support as well. It has the necessary rules and regulations to ensure that people under 21 don't have more access to marijuana but at the same time it's not over-regulated to where the regulated market can't compete with the illicit market.

How much would it cost for a person who is already a medical grower for three or four patients to get a permit to become a commercial adult-use grower?

If you want to become a commercial grower, the license is $1,250. That's the cost of each of the licenses in Measure 91. There's a wholesaler license, retailer license, producer and processor license. Each of them is $1,250, so somebody could be a producer, processor and retailer, and it would still cost less than somebody who wants a yearly permit to have a medical marijuana facility in Oregon, which cost  $4,000 yearly. So we believe with the low barriers of entry, it will really allow Oregon “mom and pops” to thrive, and it will allow Oregon cultivators and providers to follow in the footsteps of Oregon's microbrewery and winery models to really flourish.

Will the state's medical growers be able to transition into the adult-use market if they choose to do so?

We believe so. Nothing in Measure 91 prohibits medical marijuana growers or providers from entering the adult-use system. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission is watching what's going on in Washington and Colorado, and they definitely know that you need to have an adequate supply, so they're planning on licensing the cultivators first, before the retail outlets, to ensure that there's a supply when stores open. Washington had a lottery where there were so many licenses. Many people applied for a license who didn't know anything about growing marijuana and actually had no intention of growing marijuana, but they were signing up for a license really as a lottery ticket that they could sell. The OLCC is aware of that. They understand the need to not have an arbitrary number of licenses, not to have a lottery, but instead to license and regulate people that are actually qualified to cultivate and provide cannabis, and no one is more qualified than people already within the Oregon medical marijuana system.

Earl Blumenauer, one of our Congressmen in Oregon, has written a letter to ONDCP and SAMHSA urging them to investigate the possible misuse of federal funds in opposition to Measure 91, alleging that some federal grant moneys given to different prevention and treatment types of groups may actually have been misdirected into political uses in opposition to the measure. Can you comment on that?

It seems that misuse of both federal and state funds is something prohibitionists have utilized over the years across the country. This was really the case even back in 2003, when I worked on a local decriminalization measure in Columbia, Missouri. The Drug Czar's office sent staffers - including the No. 2 drug czar Scott Burns and, at the time, a young staffer in the office named Kevin Sabet - to little Columbia to campaign against a local decriminalization measure in the name of an educational tour that just happened to be right before an election. It looks like they did similar tactics in 2012, when Measure 80 was on the ballot here in Oregon. So it seems that prohibitionists have resorted to a misuse of taxpayer dollars, and this time around the support for marijuana law reform is at a majority.

It's really disheartening and outrageous that people would use hard-earned tax dollars that goes against what a majority of taxpayers want in a system. I think it's apparent that these so-called “educational tours” are political, they're not educational - if they were educational they would bring an array of voices to the events. But when you have only people who oppose Measure 91, only people that support cannabis prohibition, it's clear that this is not educational, and it's a political event. You bring in Kevin Sabet, who's been called the quarterback of the anti-marijuana legalization movement; Josh Marquis, who's the self-appointed spokesperson for the No on 91 effort; and Richard Harris, who used to be the director of the addiction and mental health services in Oregon, it's obvious that these tours are political and not educational. I'm glad that Congressman Blumenauer is really standing up for taxpayers and working against this misuse of federal and state tax dollars. I sincerely hope that will end this kind of nefarious practice in Oregon and hopefully across the country as we move forward. It's important to separate public dollars from private dollars as far as politics goes.

Make donations to Yes on 91 here.

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Doug McVay

Doug McVay

Doug McVay is on the board of directors of Common Sense for Drug Policy. He lives in Portland, Oregon.