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It's time to legalize marijuana

In 2012, we recommended voters reject a ballot measure that would have legalized recreational marijuana because it was badly written and likely to create more problems than it solved. This year, a group of legalization advocates have put forward a very detailed, carefully worded initiative that has none of the drawbacks of the 2012 measure.

We think Ballot Measure 91 strikes the right balance between Colorado's overly permissive law and Washington state's excessively restrictive statute. Voters should approve it.

Public opinion has been steadily shifting in favor of legalizing personal recreational use of marijuana, to the point that observers believe Measure 91 is likely to pass on Nov. 4. We are not supporting the measure because we want to jump on the winning bandwagon, but because we think it will clarify the confusing status of marijuana in Oregon.

Oregon decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana decades ago. A sizable portion of the state's residents use the drug recreationally — more than 10 percent by some estimates. It's widely accepted that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, but it remains illegal.

Measure 91 supporters are billing it as a control measure, and that's a good way to describe it.

Under the status quo, Oregonians use marijuana they buy illegally. Some of them drive after smoking it. Criminals and drug cartels get all the financial benefit. Police agencies spend time and money chasing growers, dealers and users, resources they could devote to more serious crime.

Under Measure 91, state-licensed farmers would produce the drug under strict controls. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which knows a thing or two about regulating an intoxicating substance, would oversee the distribution and sale of legal pot to those 21 and over. The OLCC would have authority to regulate potency, labeling, testing and portion size — information that is not available on the black market.

The state would tax pot at a rate of $35 an ounce, a level designed to raise money for the state but keep the price low enough that consumers wouldn't be tempted to buy it on the black market — something that has happened under Washington's too-restrictive law.

Individuals could grow up to four plants for personal use only, but not sell it, just as home brewers can make their own beer in reasonable quantities. Colorado's law allows 12 plants, while Washington bans home growing entirely.

Driving under the influence of intoxicants — any intoxicants — is against the law now. That wouldn't change. But some of the tax proceeds would pay for public education efforts to discourage stoned driving, just as anti-drunk driving campaigns have done for years. That won't happen without this measure. Money also would be set aside to train all Oregon State Police troopers in evaluating driver impairment, and to hire more police.  

The taxes raised would be shared across the state under a formula that would contribute 40 percent to schools, 35 percent to state and local police and 25 percent to drug treatment, prevention and mental health programs.

Continuing the prohibition approach to marijuana won't accomplish any of these things. Nor will it end marijuana use. What Measure 91 would do is impose needed controls on the drug, and generate tax revenue for the state and for local communities.

All the consequences of Measure 91 are not known for sure, and the law may need to be adjusted to account for unforeseen circumstances. The measure does not amend the state constitution, so the Legislature can modify the law as needed.

We recommend a yes vote on Ballot Measure 91.