The clock is ticking on Oregon's best-funded shot at pot legalization, but supporters have new reason for hope.
With a little more than three months left to collect nearly 90,000 valid signatures—and with the State Legislature punting earlier this month—organizers behind the political action committee New Approach Oregon have yet to even begin, stymied so far by the mysterious protestations of a Canby attorney. That attorney, Michael McNichols, has appealed the ballot language for the group's initiative, which would legalize and tax marijuana much in the way Oregon handles liquor.
The appeal's still before the Supreme Court, and there's no indication when the justices might rule (and therefore no sign when the initiative might be cleared to gather signatures). But New Approach got good news today.
In January, the group filed an initiative nearly identical to the one McNichols appealed. And it seemed the attorney would make similar objections—he indicated in written comments on the initiative that it had all the same problems. But McNichols didn't follow through. With the deadline past, both the Oregon Supreme Court and Secretary of State's Office tell the Mercury they've not received word of an appeal.
That means the initiative will likely be cleared to start gathering signatures in the next week. New Approach only has to have to have its signature sheets approved by the Secretary of State's Office, which has three days to approve them or demand changes, said office spokesman Josh Goldberg.
"We are very gratified to have ballot language we believe fairly explains to voters what this particular measure would do to regulate and tax marijuana," New Approach Oregon director Anthony Johnson said in a statement to the Mercury. "We are excited to be working in coalition to chart next steps for the campaign to bring a much-needed new approach to Oregon’s marijuana laws."
New Approach's proposal has seen massive donations from national pot advocates, and has collected more than a quarter million dollars to date. That, and promising poll numbers, suggest the group can mount a successful campaign come November.
But New Approach isn't the only player. Paul Stanford, who put a failed marijuana legalization measure on the ballot in 2012, is already collecting signatures for a similar measure this year. And while his 2012 effort didn't garner much attention from the national movement (like successful campaigns in Colorado and Washington did), this year's endeavor has attracted some serious money from a Texas organization, the Foundation for Constitutional Protection. (Willie Nelson's been on board both times.)
Stanford has guaranteed he'll make the ballot again this time around. But he concedes having two legalization petitions could make the fight more difficult.
"People will think they signed one when they really signed the other one," he previously told the Mercury. "Every signature we get will make it harder for them to get signatures. Every signature they get will make it harder for us to get signatures."
So this should be interesting.