Ballot initiatives seeking to legalize marijuana in 2014 could put the Oregon Liquor Control Commission in the driver's seat when it comes to regulation and taxes.
"It has an integral role, for sure, under any scenario," said Rob Patridge, a Medford lawyer who is chairman of the OLCC and also serves as district attorney in Klamath County.
Oregon voters could be looking at three ballot measures — initiative petitions 21, 22 and 37 — if supporters gather enough signatures by the July 3 deadline. In addition, Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, is working on a legislative referral to legalize marijuana.
The initiatives would allow a person age 21 or older to possess marijuana. They all include provisions intended to safeguard minors and establish penalties for violations such as driving while impaired.
Initiative Petition 21 would amend the state Constitution to eliminate all criminal offenses and forfeiture laws related to marijuana, except when it endangers minors or public safety.
Initiative Petition 22 would establish a Cannabis Tax Act and an Oregon Cannabis Commission. Initiative petitions 21 and 22 are proposed by marijuana activist Paul Stanford, who sponsored a legalization measure in 2012 that was defeated by voters.
Oregon voters also defeated pot legalization measures in 2010. Washington state and Colorado voters approved legalization in the past year.
Initiative Petition 37 lays out a detailed road map addressing the cultivation, regulation and taxation of marijuana and industrial hemp. The initiative, proposed by Anthony Johnson of the National Cannabis Coalition, spells out the OLCC's role, including requiring the establishment of a method of testing drivers to determine their level of impairment.
Prozanski's two-page draft bill released last week describes only the general nature of the law, including provisions to prevent sale of marijuana to organized crime, gangs or cartels.
Patridge, who is personally opposed to legalization of marijuana, said Initiative 37 provides a fairly lengthy description of how the OLCC would carry out the new law.
Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell, said he's supportive of medical marijuana and the legitimate use of hemp but believes marijuana isn't good for society in general.
"I oppose just a carte-blanche legalization," said McLane, whose district covers portions of Deschutes, Jackson, Klamath and Lake counties.
He said he is particularly worried about the unintended consequences of legalization, such as providing easier access to pot for young people. McLane said he considers marijuana a gateway drug.
Despite his misgivings, McLane said he'd be willing to work with legislators to devise appropriate regulations if voters decide to legalize pot.
"Clearly, we have to tax — and tax the dickens out of it," said McLane, who thought it appropriate to have the OLCC take over the regulatory process if marijuana is legalized.
Medford police Chief Tim George said the state hasn't even figured how it's going to implement House Bill 3460, which creates a medical marijuana dispensary system. Dispensaries won't be able to operate until after a committee creates the rules for HB 3460.
The city of Medford has enacted an ordinance that would effectively ban dispensaries in the city limits, a ban that may be challenged in the courts.
George said there are so many initiatives being proposed that it's been difficult to keep track of them.
"It's almost comical what's going on right now," he said. "Oregon voters will be smart to look at what's going on in Washington and Colorado."
George said that the first efforts to legalize marijuana as medicine have been part of an ongoing effort to legalize the drug for general use.
"It's been a smokescreen ever since," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @reporterdm.