PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — Following a failed attempt to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, results on Tuesday showed Oregonians passing Measure 91, making Oregon the third state to approve the drug’s recreational use.
The District of Columbia also approved a ballot measure Tuesday allowing the use of marijuana by adults; however, Congress, which has review power there, may block the move.
Alaska, which also had a marijuana-legalization measure on its ballot Tuesday, also voted to legalize.
The “Yes” vote in Oregon legalizes the possession of the drug for anyone over 21, authorizes in-state manufacture, processing and sale of marijuana by/to adults. Additionally, the measure allows for the licensing, regulation and taxation of the substance by the state. Current medical marijuana laws are not impacted by the vote.
Anthony Johnson, the chief petitioner for the Vote Yes on 91 campaign, took the stage at Holocene in Southeast Portland Tuesday evening to celebrate the win and was eventually followed on stage by Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who said Oregon is sending a strong message to the rest of the country by legalizing marijuana.
“Oregon doing it this year in a tough climate overwhelming is a signal that Americans realize that the prohibition of marijuana has failed, and we can do better. I think it’s gonna help us change some federal rules and regulations,” Blumenauer said.
The passed measure calls for legalization by July 1, 2015 and requires the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to adopt rules by Jan. 1, 2016.
According to Blumenauer, that is more than enough time to make sure marijuana is administrated properly by the OLCC.
Oregon’s proposal pitted a well-funded state campaign to legalize marijuana against a small opposition, but the race was surprisingly tight. The campaign was far quieter in Oregon than similar measures in Colorado and Washington, which each voted to legalize recreational pot in 2012.
Legalization backers spent more than $3 million on advertising in the month before the election. Opponents, largely composed of law enforcement and concerned citizens, failed to mount much of a counter-offensive.
How people voted
The measure prevailed in Oregon’s four largest counties, according to early results, but was trailing in a cluster of smaller counties in rural Eastern Oregon.
The marijuana proposal was expected to do well with young voters. But baby boomers also showed strong support for Measure 91, with about six in 10 people between the ages of 50 and 64 voting for it, according to preliminary results of an exit poll conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks.
Voters who said they were conservative and attended church every week strongly opposed the measure, according to the poll. But liberals overwhelmingly backed it, and six in 10 moderates did as well.
The Willamette Valley, which includes Portland, strongly agreed with the measure, and it was backed by both the poor and voters who make six figures.
Edison Research conducted the survey. A total of 1,003 people who voted early or absentee were interviewed by landline or cellular telephone from Oct. 24 through Nov. 2. Results for the full sample were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points; it is higher for subgroups.
Reaction from opponents
Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis, one of the measure’s most outspoken opponents, said he’s surprised the vote appeared close Tuesday night, given the paucity of spending from his side.
“It was a true David-versus-Goliath moment,” Marquis said. “Marijuana was always a low law enforcement priority. Now it’s a no-priority.”
Opponents of the measure said they expect more children to have access to the drug, and more car accidents if it passes.
“Unfortunately, I expect a couple more times a year, sitting down with family members involved in car crashes,” Marquis said. “There’ll be more of them involving people impaired (by) marijuana. That said, do I think western civilization will come to an end in Oregon? I do not.”
Oregon sheriffs were among the law’s chief opponents. In campaign literature, they warned that legalization would put marijuana in children’s hands and could lead to more people driving under the influence.
Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis became the public face of opponents. He argued that legalizing pot was unnecessary and would encourage abuse.
The No on 91 campaign released the following statement Tuesday evening after the race was called:
“It goes without saying this was a David and Goliath battle. Despite the millions of out-of-state dollars big marijuana interests pumped into Measure 91, outspending our Oregonian grassroots campaign 30 to 1, we gave a remarkable effort in garnering 46% of the vote, and support from majority of counties in Oregon.
“We thank the Oregon Sheriffs, donors, and No on 91 volunteers for tirelessly working to prevent Oregon from becoming the next guinea pig of the Big Marijuana Industry.
“Although the result was not what we were hoping for, we are confident that Oregonians will eventually see what Coloradans are now seeing, which is the true intent of legalization is to build a big marijuana industry at the expense of Oregon’s public health and safety.
“We will continue to press our lawmakers to ensure that our kids health and safety is safeguarded, despite the big marijuana money interests now descending onto our state. You can bet that we are not going away. This is the beginning of the conversation about marijuana in Oregon, not the end.”
Oregon approved medical pot 16 years ago, and in 2013, the Oregon Legislature approved medical marijuana dispensaries. A similar arrangement in Colorado made for an easier transition from medical marijuana to commercial sales.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.