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Avoid overreacting to legal marijuana

The 2015 session of the Oregon Legislature has not yet begun, but lawmakers are wasting no time filing bushels of bills regarding marijuana after voters legalized recreational use of the drug in November. While the Legislature has an interest in making sure the new law works for everyone and an obligation to protect the health and safety of Oregonians, legislators should resist the impulse to undermine what the voters have done.

At least 16 bills dealing with marijuana were filed Monday, and more are expected. 

Marijuana becomes legal to possess and consume on July 1, and retail sales are scheduled to start in 2016 under regulations to be developed by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Voters in November approved Ballot Measure 91, 56 percent to 43 percent statewide and 53-46 in Jackson County.

Among the big issues lawmakers must address is taxation: Measure 91 sets up a state tax, and expressly forbids local governments from levying their own taxes. That didn't stop nearly every local city and county from enacting local taxes anyway. Most did so before the election in the belief that would render the local levies immune from the law's pre-emption.

That question, as well as the issue of protecting children from exposure to edible marijuana products that resemble ordinary sweets, are important to resolve. It's worth noting that the OLCC — an agency not known for a light touch in regulating alcohol — is charged with deciding how to structure marijuana sales under Measure 91.

Beyond the major questions are measures that would restrict marijuana sales much more severely than the law approved by voters. One in particular would ban retail sales of marijuana with a mile of any school — which could effectively nullify legal sales in entire communities. That measure, as well as some of the local taxes enacted by cities and counties, appear motivated more by outright opposition to legalization than by concern over proper regulation of the new market.

Measure 91 already allows local communities to ban retail marijuana sales — if local voters approve. Lawmakers in Salem certainly should ensure that marijuana sales are properly regulated and managed, but should avoid substituting their personal wishes for the clearly expressed will of the people.