The pot activists behind Measure 80—AKA the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act—have unveiled a very vocal new supporter, the campaign announced today: Soon-to-retire City Commissioner Randy Leonard.
"As a career Portland firefighter, a State Legislator and a Portland City Council member, I have always fought for funding for our first responders and resources for our social safety net,” Leonard said in a statement emailed by the Measure 80 campaign. “Regulating and taxing marijuana for adults is just common sense, because it allows us to get pot out of kids' hands, focus our public-safety resources on dangerous drugs, creates jobs and provide a new revenue stream to fund much-needed social services."
Will it help? That's unclear. Pot measures have historically had a rough time with voters, that is, when they even make the ballot. Measure 80, its backers say, might fare a little differently. It would legalize growing, selling, and regulating cannabis and hemp in the state—going beyond other half-step measures that would have merely tweaked the medicinal marijuana system.
Seeing that Leonard is months away from retirement after a decades-long political career, I called him up to ask whether this means he might be coming out of the closet as a proud pot smoker.
"You might want to hold on a second here. I wanted to open a bag of Fritos. Transfat-free Fritos. With fluoridated salt," he joked. "Don't ask. Don't tell."
Of course, then he did tell.
"I don't smoke marijuana," he said. "But in all seriousness, it's always struck me, as it does many people, and I would guess most Oregonians, why is it that alcohol is okay and marijuana is not, when arguably more crimes are fuel by alcohol per capita than ever even is envisioned by people who use marijuana. Anything used in excess can be harmful. But it was one of those cultural throwbacks that has never made a lot of sense to me."
Leonard isn't the first Portland politico to throw his lot with pot activists. His favorite political punching bag, former Mayor Tom Potter, cut an ad for a pro-dispensary measure back in 2010.