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Oregon Ballot Initiative Calls for Justice with Legalization

Photo Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now


Oregon Ballot Initiative Calls for Justice with Legalization

Activists have come together to push for the Legalization Justice Act, which seeks to “implement a more just version of cannabis legalization.”

When Oregonians voted up legal cannabis in 2014, they were endorsing a broader vision of social freedom for users and producers than state authorities have actually delivered in the ensuing years. So say a group of petitioners who last week filed a ballot measure at the state capitol in Salem, and are seeking enough signatures to place it before voters in 2020.

A new group called the Oregon Justice League asserts that because cannabis legalization in the Beaver State has failed to live up to its promise, they’ve prepared a remedy to place before the voters in the form of a new ballot initiative, the Legalization Justice Act.

Democratizing the Benefits of Legalization

Portland-based writer Angela Bacca is a board member of Oregon NORML (and former editor of Cannabis Now) and one of the chief petitioners who submitted the ballot proposal. She is also a medicinal user, who is living with Crohn’s disease.

“We decided to go big or go home,” Bacca tells Cannabis Now. “The spoils of legalization are going to those who were reaping benefits of prohibition, and this is our effort to fix that.”

The key drafter of the Legalization Justice Act, Bacca says: “We took a lot of language from bills that are pending in the legislature but not moving.” She attributes this lack of motion in part to pressure from forces such as the “public health lobby” — health authorities from conservative jurisdictions around the state and the economic interests aligned with them.

Bacca portrays an atmosphere still unacceptably restrictive for cannabis users.

“I’m a patient with Crohn’s disease, but I’m technically not allowed to possess cannabis in my home, because I signed something in the lease saying I would follow federal law,” she notes. “So even though I have two thirds of my colon left and have a disease that can be treated with cannabis, I can’t possess in my own home — or smoke in the street, because of the ban on public use.”

She also protests the high costs of participating in the state medical marijuana program. “It costs $200 to get approved medical by a doctor for the program — that’s the going rate. And then another [$200] must be paid to the Oregon Health Authority.”

Granted, the fee is lower for veterans and those on disability or social security. But the Legalization Justice Act would go much further. “There is a provision for lifetime cards in the initiative for chronic and incurable illness like the one I have,” Bacca says. “I shouldn’t have to prove each year that I still haven’t cured an incurable disease.”

The initiative also would add physicians’ assistants, nurse practitioners and naturopaths to the list of those qualified to recommend cannabis.

Five Key Provisions

The text of the Legalization Justice Act has five key provisions.

The first concerns tax revenues from legal cannabis, calling for their redistribution to advance “the social justice goals of cannabis legalization.” The LJA would designate 25 percent of such revenues to funding community development and micro-lending initiatives for small businesses in the communities that have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition and “the failed War on Drugs.” An additional 25 percent would be dedicated to subsidize cannabis purchases for low-income patients with qualifying conditions under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, or OMMP.

The text also includes changes to increasingly moribund OMMP such as the “lifetime card” provision, a growing demand of medical users nationwide.

It would also allow “social consumption spaces” such as cannabis cafes and amend the Oregon Indoor Clean Air Act to allow indoor smoking and vaping of cannabis. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission would be charged with regulating these spaces.

The LJA also includes employment protection provisions, to “prevent discriminatory and conceptually flawed drug testing” — another question that is emerging as a focus of concern for the cannabis community nationwide.

Finally, it would seek to protect Oregon’s “craft cannabis community,” directing the state to petition the federal government to allow export of product across state lines.

A National Model

The text of the LJA is still being tweaked, and a new draft is likely to be resubmitted in Salem this week. Bacca has two principal co-petitioners in the effort who are also vanguard figures in Oregon’s cannabis community.

One is Madeline Martinez, the executive director of Oregon NORML, who also happens to be the only Latina member of NORML’s national board. She won headlines in 2009, when she opened the World Famous Cannabis Cafe in Portland — a “consumption lounge” for medical users. In another case of social space for cannabis actually contracting as a paradoxical result of legalization, the cafe was forced to close when the state Indoor Clean Air Act was amended to include cannabis in 2016.

The other is Leia Flynn, a legal assistant at a firm that works with cannabis businesses and the owner of Flight Lounge, a members-only private cafe that still operates under the city of Portland’s “social consumption guidelines.” As a private club with no volunteers or employees, it is not in violation of the Indoor Clean Air Act.

Speaking to Cannabis Now, Flynn emphasizes that strictures on both indoor and outdoor smoking disproportionately impact people of color. “Homeowners are mostly white,” she says. “It’s other folk who can’t smoke at home, and they can’t smoke on the street. People choose to get a citation rather than losing their home. So we really need public spaces where people can use cannabis.”

Bacca believes the LJA could be a “model for rest of country,” as Capitol Hill lawmakers start to take up the cannabis legalization question.

“We are putting into writing what we feel is wrong with legalization as we go into this new federal paradigm,” Bacca says. “We’ve made strides but haven’t achieved social justice goals of legalization. And we can’t forget that, especially now that we’re reaching critical mass on the question nationally.” 

The Oregon Justice League is calling upon the state’s dispensaries to collect signatures to help get the 120,000 needed for ballot placement, and Bacca is optimistic. “We now have an entire consumer network where users interact with people from the industry every day,” she says.

And the cannabis community has a growing political weight that she believes will inevitably at some point counterbalance the power of conservative lobbyists.

“The state has taken in $160 million in cannabis taxes since legalization,” Bacca concludes. “Yet the legislators keep bowing down to the public health lobby. At what point is our money worth it?”

TELL US, what’s in your ideal your version a legalization justice initiative?

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