Oregon Marijuana Legalization Bill Passes First Hearing

SALEM, OR —  Oregon’s proposed Control, Regulation and Taxation of Cannabis Act received its first public hearing at the State House in Salem by the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

The bill passed out of the committee 6-3, with one Republican, Wayne Krieger, joining the committee’s 5 Democrats.  The bill now moves onto the House Committee on Revenue.

House Bill 3371, also known as the Control, Regulation and Taxation of Cannabis Act, was first  introduced in March and is sponsored by the House Committee on Revenue.

The bill would legalize the possession of up to six plants and 24 ounces of marijuana “on the premises” of non-commercial home grows, the same amounts allowed under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, for adults 21 or older. The bill does not otherwise set possession limits, but leaves them to the Oregon Health Authority to regulate.

Proponents  urged lawmakers to create a system to regulate and tax marijuana before an advocacy group pushes a ballot measure that might be poorly written and less desirable to lawmakers.

“Marijuana legalization is coming to Oregon sooner rather than later,” Anthony Johnson of Portland, of New Approach Oregon, said at the hearing. “It makes sense to regulate marijuana like alcohol and for the Legislature to take the lead on the issue and make sure sensible regulations are in place.”

Primary opposition to the bill came from the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association, who opposed HB 337 citing concerns over drug abuse and dependency, impaired driving, and underage use.

“This act will not make the problems of marijuana abuse go away,” said Sheriff Pat Garrett of Washington County.

Sheriff Garrett added that he did think the bill would generate much tax revenue for the state because it allows adults to grow their own marijuana, who then wouldn’t need to purchase marijuana from a taxable retail outlet.

Under the bill, the Oregon Health Authority would be charged with licensing marijuana producers, processors, wholesalers and retailers, with the tax set at $35 an ounce. Marijuana commerce would include “edibles.”

The money would go to a “Cannabis Tax Account,” with 40 percent of proceeds going to schools and 20 percent each to Oregon State Police, the general fund, and services for mental health, alcoholism and drugs.

House Bill 3371 would not prevent employers from prohibiting the manufacture, delivery, possession or use of marijuana in the workplace. The bill would also legalize industrial hemp.

If passed, the bill would go into effect July 1, 2014.

“Soon, we may have our neighbor to the north collecting tax revenue from Oregon residents, when Oregon should be collecting that revenue,” said Anthony Johnson, director of New Approach Oregon, a new political action committee formed by a coalition of groups seeking legalization of marijuana and hemp in Oregon. “Marijuana is safer than alcohol, and it makes sense to regulate it like alcohol.”

Oregon made history in 1973 by becoming the first state to replace jail time with a fine for simple possession offenses.  Oregon became a medical marijuana state in 1998. Last year, a marijuana legalization initiative, Measure 80, was barely defeated at the polls, gaining 47% of the popular vote.

Oregon activists are currently debating whether to move forward with another initiative in 2014 or wait for the next presidential election in 2016. But if the legislature acts on HB 3371, Oregonians may not have to wait even that long.

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