An initiative that would have made marijuana offenses the lowest law enforcement priority in Portland failed to make the ballot this week, after a Multnomah County analysis of the initiative's signatures showed that the petition's backers, Citizens for a Safer Portland, didn't submit 26,691 valid signatures.
The initiative—largely funded by the Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project, which gave the campaign over $120,000 to date—collected a little over 40,000 signatures. But the campaign scrubbed duplicates, the city tossed another 5,000 due to "circulator error"—a decision the campaign is not happy about—and only 62 percent of the remaining 27,000 signatures were valid, according to Multnomah County Elections' calculations. The campaign spent over $94,000 on petition circulators, according to the July 24 campaign finance filings.
Local pot activist Chris Iverson filed the petition without much fanfare back on February 7. Given Portland's already strong support for the state's medical marijuana measures, Iverson's strategy was to keep quiet and avoid drawing any opposition that might jeopardize the built-in advantage. In hindsight, that strategy may have backfired.
Iverson disagrees. "The fact that we only had four months hurt us. The fact that we didn't have a whole lot of money hurt us," Iverson says. "I still think not talking to the media and laying low was a smart decision."
In Seattle, where a similar measure made the ballot and passed in 2003, there was a 63 percent reduction in arrests, prosecutions, and sentences for marijuana offenses. Portland's measure could have had a similar effect by making "adult marijuana-related offenses the lowest law-enforcement priority in the City of Portland," and backing up the measure with a citizens' oversight committee to ensure the directive was being followed by cops and the district attorney.
Supporters, like Iverson, had hoped that the city measure would have paved the way for statewide marijuana reforms—ambitious ideas like regulating and taxing the drug. "It seems that [the Marijuana Policy Project] and the activists here in Oregon want to continue down this low-priority initiative road," Iverson says. "It's very likely we will obtain another grant and do this next year or in '08. I am not stopping until this is legal, and the war on marijuana is over."