SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Paul Stanford, one of the nation's leading marijuana legalization advocates, doesn't only want Oregonians to have the right to smoke pot. He wants it written into the state constitution.
Stanford's proposed constitutional amendment is one of several pot questions that may go to Oregon voters in November. Others are offering competing measures for how the state would regulate and tax the drug.
We think our voters will just vote yes on all of them, Stanford said this week, adding that if the competing measures both pass, the one with the most votes would trump the other in areas where they may conflict.
Advocates for legalization are gearing up their campaigns now that the Legislature has declined to put a measure of its own on the ballot. They will have to gather tens of thousands of signatures by early July.
Stanford is already circulating petitions for two separate pot initiatives. One would amend the state constitution to decriminalize pot use, and the other, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, would create a commission for regulating marijuana cultivation, processing and sales.
Stanford's effort faces competition from the group New Approach Oregon, which is preparing to push a measure that leaves the constitution alone and gives the Oregon Liquor Control Commission the job of regulating marijuana like it does alcohol.
Anthony Johnson of New Approach Oregon said the group has two slightly different initiatives filed with the Secretary of State's Office, but it will go forward with whichever one it feels has the best odds in November. Johnson said he expects to begin collecting the 87,213 signatures needed to qualify one of them for the ballot in as little as a month, but the group is currently waiting for both measures to clear the ballot-titling process, which could delay those plans.
Johnson also has donors lined up to fund the signature drives, which he said could cost between a quarter of a million dollars and three quarters of a million dollars, depending on how quickly the measures' ballot titles can be finalized. He declined to name them, but they're widely believed to include some of the deep-pocketed interests that helped fund successful 2012 legalization drives in Washington state and Colorado.
Stanford said he's focusing his resources on door-to-door canvassing to get the signatures his initiatives need by July 3 - 116,284 for the constitutional amendment and 87,213 for the tax act. As of early March, he had submitted less than a quarter of the signatures needed for each measure. But he said his campaign is growing pretty rapidly right now and has gathered more than 10,000 signatures since then.
Stanford has reported more than $45,000 in contributions from people giving $100 or less in cash and says that number is growing, too. At least one out-of-state backer, Texas head shop owner Michael Kleinman, has also contributed more than $75,000 to the effort through his nonprofit Foundation for Constitutional Protection.
In 2012, Stanford successfully got a marijuana-legalization initiative on the ballot, but voters rejected it 47 percent to 53 percent. Legalization advocates spent millions helping to get Washington's and Colorado's measures passed but avoided Oregon, complaining that the measure was poorly drafted and didn't qualify for the ballot in time for them to make an effective case to voters. Stanford also has a contentious relationship with many in the marijuana legalization community.
Some of the same groups that funded efforts in Washington and Colorado have already put thousands into Oregon's 2014 initiatives - just not Stanford's. The New York-based Drug Policy Alliance and its advocacy arm contributed $60,000 to New Approach in 2013. The late Peter Lewis, former chairman of Progressive Corp., contributed more than $95,000 to the group before his death in November.
Both Stanford and Johnson say they're confident they'll get the signatures they need and both are optimistic that their measures will pass.
It's going to happen this year, Stanford said. For sure.