By Amanda Waldroupe, Staff Writer
Oregon Rep. Peter Buckley (D-Ashland) wants to make Oregon “black marketless,” help end the War on Drugs, and generate up to $80 million in revenue. And he intends to do it by legalizing marijuana.
Buckley intends to introduce the Oregon Cannabis Revenue Act during the upcoming state Legislative session in January. The law would legalize marijuana in Oregon for people over the age of 21 and allow people to grow their own marijuana. A new office within the Department of Agriculture would provide oversight and regulation, and the state would collect revenue from taxing the drug.
Buckley thinks as much as $80 million could be collected from the taxes. That extra revenue could provide a sorely needed shot in the arm to Oregon’s anemic budget, which is suffering from a projected $3 billion shortfall. “I’m trying desperately to keep programs for Oregonians intact,” says Buckley, who co-chairs the state’s Ways and Means Committee. “The idea that we are spending money (on enforcing marijuana prohibition laws) and ending programs for Oregonians drives me nuts.”
His law closely mirrors legislation supported by activist Melodie Silverwolf and Madeline Martinez, executive director of Oregon NORML, who have sought multiple times to collect enough signatures to put a measure on the ballot legalizing marijuana.
Buckley’s increased motivation to legalize marijuana comes at a time when marijuana is becoming a growing concern in southern Oregon and northern California. In May, the Oregon Business Magazine reported that in southern Oregon, law enforcement considers the growth of marijuana in public lands, and activities and crimes associated with it, at epidemic levels.
And marijuana laws are being considered in both states. On Nov. 2, Oregonians will vote on Measure 74, which would expand regulation of Oregon’s medical marijuana dispensaries (Oregon approved the use of medical marijuana in 1998 and is among only 14 states to have done so). Californians will be voting on Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana in their state. Earlier this month, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill that reduces the charge for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction.
How California votes on Prop 19 is the biggest deciding factor for Buckley as he considers introducing his legislation. If Californians pass the law, Buckley thinks it will create enough traction for a similar law in Oregon.
To Buckley, deciding whether to legalize marijuana comes down to common sense and having a rational discussion about the continued impact on society of ineffectively illegalizing drugs.
Amanda Waldroupe: Why doesn’t prohibition work?
Peter Buckley: It’s never made sense to me. We’re spending much too much of our resources and energy in trying to stop people from using a substance they want to use and that grows naturally in a garden. You could always make the comparison to alcohol. Prohibition didn’t work, and it caused more harm than good. The war on drugs has, in general, caused more harm than good. If we had legalization and education about what drugs do to people and the consequences of using them, we would be far more effective.
A.W.: I can think of another plant that grows naturally in our gardens — poppies, which make heroin. Are you saying that heroin should be legal, too? There is the old argument that government should legalize all drugs and tax them heavily. In your mind, is this a beginning to doing that?
P.B.: I think that is a more rational approach. But there is a difference between marijuana and heroin. Heroin can kill you. Flat out. It has a track record of ruining lives. Whereas with marijuana, I don’t think you could point to anything close to that impact. It doesn’t make sense for the government to be involved in stopping people from engaging in behavior that does not damage any other person. It is okay for us to regulate that behavior when it does hurt other people. And the black market in illicit drugs hurts other people. Continue reading