State Rep. Peter Buckley has thrown his support behind Measure 80, an initiative that would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana consumed by adults.
"Overall, legalization would take the black market out of Oregon," said Buckley, D-Ashland, who has served as co-chairman of the Legislature's Ways and Means Committee for the past two sessions.
He said he supports regulating marijuana in a manner similar to the regulation of alcohol under the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.
Under current laws, he said, medical marijuana has too many legal loopholes that have frustrated law enforcement and left the door open for abuse.
"I do think it's a problem with some medical marijuana growers," he said. "They've gotten greedy."
Oregon voters will decide this November on the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, a citizen's initiative campaign to regulate cannabis and encourage production of hemp.
According to the YES on 80 campaign, legalizing marijuana could save $60 million annually in law enforcement costs, while taxing it could bring in an extra $140 million. Under the proposal, marijuana would be purchased through state-run stores.
Buckley, who said he's not a marijuana user and doesn't have a medical marijuana card, said the federal government likely would question Oregon's authority to legalize the drug if voters pass the measure, but he thinks that if enough states pass similar initiatives it could change the national debate.
"Hopefully, the federal government will see the light," he said.
The new law will provide a clearer legal distinction for law enforcement in how to prosecute anyone furnishing marijuana to minors, Buckley said. The law still would make it illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana or to use it in public places.
Roy Kaufmann, spokesman for the YES on 80 campaign, said the law could add to Oregon's image as a tourist destination, similar to the effect of the Oregon wine and beer industry.
Also, the initiative would create another growth industry in the state, he said. "Agricultural hemp will dwarf the marijuana market within a decade," Kaufmann predicted.
Other states, including Washington and Colorado, may take up similar initiatives to legalizing marijuana. If enough states support legalization, Kaufmann said, "It would really force the federal government's hand on this issue."
He said the marijuana law has been written in a way to stand up to federal scrutiny.
Kaufmann said the prohibition of marijuana has been a failure in this country.
State Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, said Oregon's medical marijuana laws are "grossly abused," but said he has too many questions about Measure 80 to support it.
"I am very much troubled by the current medical marijuana law," said Richardson, who served as a co-chairman with Buckley on the Ways and Means Committee. "It is basically legalization through a back-door approach."
He said the right to smoke pot is now being advertised as a simple matter of spending $100 to find the right doctor.
Richardson said he doesn't support legalizing marijuana. But he said the state needs to have a rational debate about whether it wants to legalize cannabis or take a different approach and crack down on violations.
He said Measure 80 will at least get voters talking about medical marijuana laws, though he doubts the voters in his fairly conservative district would support the initiative.
While Measure 80 would raise tax dollars, Richardson said he's reluctant to create a new state bureaucracy to keep track of the process.
He said he's also concerned about creating another "sin tax," in addition to the dollars the state already collects through gambling, cigarettes and alcohol.
Richardson, who doesn't have a medical marijuana card, said he would consider using marijuana if he had a serious medical condition.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email email@example.com.