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Buckley weighs push for legal pot measure

If California voters approve a measure in November to legalize marijuana, Oregon state Rep. Peter Buckley intends to introduce similar legislation when Oregon lawmakers return to Salem in 2011.

The Ashland Democrat says the proposed Oregon Cannabis Revenue Act would tax and regulate pot for adult consumption.

In addition to raising revenue, Buckley said, it would dramatically reduce criminal activity now associated with it, including the illegal pot gardens now frequently found on area federal forestlands.

"But what happens in California is the key," said Buckley, who is co-chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

"California is huge," he said. "If California decides to legalize it, I want my colleagues to at least let Oregon voters weigh in on the issue."

He believes that Oregonians likely would follow California's lead, followed by residents in Washington state.

Californians approved that state's landmark medical marijuana law 14 years ago; Oregonians followed suit four years later.

California's Proposition 19, which will be on the Nov. 2 ballot, would decriminalize pot for adults 21 or older in possession of an ounce or less for personal use. California residents could also grow marijuana gardens up to 25 square feet.

In addition, the proposal would allow cities and local governments to decide whether to allow pot sales and levy taxes on those sales.

The legislative language was largely written by activist Melodie Silverwolf and Madeline Martinez, executive director of Oregon National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. After meeting with them last week, Buckley agreed to introduce the legislation in the upcoming legislative session.

According to Martinez, the legislation would be a starting point for Oregon to end cannabis prohibition for all adults while keeping the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program in place. Oregonians already will be voting on an expansion of that system in November, deciding whether to allow marijuana dispensaries for those with medical marijuana cards.

Opponents to legalizing pot in the state have long argued that legalization would cause more problems with drug abuse as well as more headaches for law enforcement agencies.

"I don't think you can legalize your way out of a problem, and you can't sin tax your way out," said Tim George, deputy chief of the Medford Police Department, of Buckley's proposed legislation. George challenges claims that it would raise significant taxes or reduce crime.

Buckley said it is time for Oregonians to have a rational debate on the issue.

"It is a difficult proposal because cannabis has been stereotyped for so long," he said. "It's hard to have a rational discussion about it. But that's my intention: to finally have a rational discussion about marijuana."

The Oregon measure would be slightly different from the California proposal in several ways, Buckley said.

It would set up a system with the state Department of Agriculture establishing where marijuana could be grown.

The state would also create a group similar to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, called the Oregon Cannabis Control Commission, which would regulate how pot is grown and consumed, he said.

"Perhaps we can get out of the mess we are in with drug cartels from Mexico," he said. "My goal is to do everything I can to get rid of the black market.

"Prohibition doesn't work," he said. "With this, we would regulate it and tax it. It would help pay for Oregon's education system, for human services and for public safety."

Meanwhile, a field poll released Sunday by the Associated Press showed that Proposition 19 is currently supported by 49 percent of the likely California voters, while 42 percent were opposed.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.