COME NEXT SUMMER, holding onto a tiny vial of marijuana will be just as legal in Oregon as clutching a bottle of your annoying college friend's hoppy basement IPA.
By a wide margin, voters on Tuesday, November 4, approved Measure 91—making Oregon the third state in the nation to embrace legal recreational pot, following Washington and Colorado (and also Washington, DC) in an increasingly complicated drug-policy experiment that ought to put even further pressure on a prohibitionist federal government to come to its senses.
By next July you'll be able to smoke pot in Oregon without fear of anyone but the federal government beating down your door and giving you hell.
But that's not the only progressive thing you did, Oregon. You rejected an attempt to transform the state's electoral system, funded by business interests. You also kept your stalwart freshman senator, Jeff Merkley, for six more years.
And you seem to have decided your scandal-plagued Democratic governor, John Kitzhaber, was worth another four—even if his main opponent, State Representative Dennis Richardson, refused to concede as of deadline.
Something else that wasn't clear as of press time? The fate of Measure 92, which would require labeling of food bearing genetically modified ingredients. In the most expensive race in Oregon history, the $20 million raised mostly by large corporations to defeat the measure had it barely on the ropes.
"The rest of our people are going to roll in later," Yes on 92 campaign director Paige Richardson told a still-empty campaign party shortly before the first numbers came out. "That's the same thing that's going to happen with our votes. They're rolling in late. If they're down, don't sweat it."
UPDATE! It wasn't to be. That narrow deficit for the proponents refused to budget after a long night of ballot counting in Multnomah County. The No on 92 campaign declared victory Wednesday morning after the Oregonian and KPTV both called the race in the No campaign's favor.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
The race over Measure 91 started out promising for pot advocates, before tightening dramatically in the run-up to the election. Was legal pot ahead or behind? Polls varied, but everyone agreed the outcome would depend on whether young voters stepped up.
It was too early, as of press time, to do any sort of demographic analysis of this election. What was clear is that Oregonians were done with a needlessly punitive stance toward marijuana that disproportionately targeted African Americans.
The campaign for Measure 91 wasn't the grassroots affair boosters wanted you to think it was. Legal marijuana use will sail into Oregon on the backs of moneyed donors from around the country—some working to advance political agendas, others clearly operating with a profit motive—who dumped millions into the race.
Whether they grow rich off Oregon's market is now up to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which must establish a workable, pragmatic system for marijuana distribution and regulation by January 2016. The state's also going to have to straighten out whether cities like Portland have the right to tax marijuana sales.
But those answers are still months away, along with your right to toke. Starting next July, it'll be legal to grow four plants and possess up to eight ounces in your home (only one on your person).
Remember: Smoking in public is still illegal. And if you want to partake before July, it's still unclear how Portland police may react.
"We'll wait for the city attorney to give us guidance on how the law will affect our law enforcement efforts if it passes," Portland Police Bureau spokesman Sergeant Pete Simpson told the Mercury on November 3. "In all likelihood, our focus will be on public education of what is legal and what is not, similar to what we did after Washington passed their law."
KITZHABER HOLDS ON?
For a second, it looked like Kitzhaber might have completely blown his shot at a fourth term as governor—and that Oregonians had really grown tired of a man they'd allowed to lead their state for 12 of the past 20 years. Just days before one of his first major debates, Willamette Week followed a splashy cover story about ethical clashes between his girlfriend Cylvia Hayes' consulting work and first lady persona with a whopper blog post that revealed she'd once participated in a sham marriage.
A KATU poll briefly hinted at some tightening in the race. But Kitzhaber somehow managed to remind enough people that no matter the cloud that settled over his campaign, rival Richardson was still the lesser candidate.
Richardson tried to say his extreme social views on abortion and marriage equality didn't matter. Except they did—especially in concert with an economic platform that felt decidedly 20th century instead of 21st.
At his election party, Richardson danced with partygoers at the Monarch Hotel in Clackamas County, refusing to give up. Charlie Pearce, Richardson's campaign manager, took to the mic at one point, noting there were still 600,000 votes yet to be counted—with his man down just 35,000 votes.
"As we've known all along, this is going to be a close race," Pearce said. "And Republicans tend to hold their ballots pretty late—they don't trust [Oregon Secretary of State] Kate Brown that much."
MONICA WEHBY'S IMPLOSION
The only suspense in Monica Wehby's insurgent bid against Merkley was how badly she'd be defeated—thanks to a savaging led by the national political media.
Politico first reported her troubles with ex-lovers, sending her limping into the general election after a hard-fought race against conservative state lawmaker Jason Conger.
She might have recovered, if she played things smart. But she never warmed up to local reporters. And then BuzzFeed nailed her for copying chunks of her health care platform from Karl Rove's widely circulated talking points—and then again for doing the same with Conger's platform from the primary.
Wehby was supposed to be the health policy wonk who'd expose the fecklessly liberal Merkley by playing on her home turf. But she never recovered.
"My message to you tonight is never give up," she told the crowd in her concession speech.
And then she faded from her party, too.
ELECTORAL CHANGE REJECTED
Measure 90 threatened to usher in a big change to Oregon's political system: a top-two electoral scheme in which candidates from every party would compete in a brawling primary race, with the top two finishers, regardless of party, going on to fight again in a bruising general election.
Oregonians already rejected the top-two system once before, in 2008—just two years before Californians wound up supporting it.
But damned if top-two's supporters, this time, didn't try like hell to see it pass. Early on, they tapped wealthy donors to set up a massive paid signature-gathering operation that worked furiously just to get Measure 90 onto the ballot. Then they kept relying on big donors to get their message out, including millions in gifts from billionaires like Texan John Arnold and New York's Michael Bloomberg.
But all that money put a mark on the campaign for 90, which found itself constantly accused by its foes—the state's major parties and labor unions—of trying to bully in new rules that would favor business-backed candidates over partisans. That's a special danger in Oregon, which places no limits on campaign donations.
"We've sparked an important conversation," chief petitioner Jim Kelly said in a concession speech. "And this conversation won't go away."
THE LABELING CONUNDRUM
The most expensive ballot measure in Oregon's history was also the election's closest.
The shadowy, nefarious opponents of Measure 92—despised names like Monsanto, shifty names like Nestle—turned the money hose on Oregon earlier this year, hoping to kill mandated labeling of products with GMOs, just as they did in Washington and California.
And, as of press time, they were succeeding, with "no" votes holding a tiny lead. That wasn't necessarily enough to stomp out supporters' hopes.
Like campaign manager Paige Richardson said earlier, "We are pinning our hopes on late voters."
—Brian Gjurgevich, Alex Zielinski, Megan Burbank, Christopher David Gray, Suzette Smith, and Joe Streckert contributed to this report.