Over the past couple of months, I have been asked the following question many, many times: So which states are next? What people want to know, of course, is where MPP would like to help make marijuana legal for all adults now that we accomplished that historic goal in Colorado. While our executive director Rob Kampia has provided a public answer to that question in a national alert and blog post, I did my part to signal MPP’s intentions this past weekend, with an appearance at a town hall forum in Portland, Oregon on Sunday.
I was joined by Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who kicked off the forum by discussing the need for reform of marijuana laws on the federal level. The 100 or so attendees were greatly appreciative of Rep. Blumenauer’s presence at the event, and he deserves strong praise for taking the lead on this issue in Congress. Following Rep. Blumenauer’s remarks, I focused on the major opportunity at the state level. As we see it, Oregon is one of a small handful of states where it is possible to pass a ballot initiative to regulate marijuana like alcohol in the next four years. We feel so strongly about the prospects for reform, we have already hired a consultant, Roy Kaufmann, to serve as our representative in the state.
During the town hall event, I provided Oregon advocates and activists with a road map to success based on what we learned in Colorado. I placed special emphasis on the need to cooperate and educate over the coming years. The marijuana reform community in Oregon has a history marked by disagreements and division. It is time to overcome those differences so that we can focus on defeating our enemies, not our friends.
With respect to education, I explained how the Colorado campaign was built upon years of work by Mason Tvert (now MPP’s communications director) and SAFER to help the public understand that marijuana is a far less harmful substance than alcohol. We believe that this long-term public education campaign helped diminish the fear of marijuana previously ingrained in the minds of soccer moms and other swing voters. It made it easier, in the end, for people to vote Yes on Amendment 64.
Perhaps most importantly, I conveyed to the attendees MPP’s strong belief that ballot initiatives to regulate marijuana like alcohol should be run during presidential election years when the turnout — notably the much higher percentage of young voters — is more favorable for this issue. The odds of winning in 2014 are significantly lower, and every dollar invested in a signature drive in 2014 is a dollar not being spent on public education efforts that will increase our chances of winning in 2016. Moreover, a loss in 2014 could diminish enthusiasm among potential funders for a 2016 campaign. As evidence of this, we need only look to California, where the Prop. 19 campaign fell short in 2010 and essentially led to the state being off the table in 2012.
Clearly, the drive to regulate marijuana like alcohol in Oregon is going to garner a significant amount of media coverage over the next four years. In fact, the day following the town hall forum, the state’s largest newspaper, the Oregonian, published an article about the event on the front page!
There is much work to do in Oregon between now and November 2016. But if leaders of the marijuana policy reform community in the state can come together and steer their collective energy and resources toward a common goal, a victory in 45 months is not only achievable, it is likely.