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Only One-third of Likely 2014 Oregon Voters Oppose Marijuana Legalization

05/22/2013 06:33 pm ET | Updated Jul 22, 2013
  • Russ Belville Host of The Russ Belville Show on CannabisRadio.com
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Readers of this blog know that there has been an ongoing debate between the Marijuana Policy Project and the marijuana reform organizations in Oregon. (See "MPP's "Rob Kampia warns Oregon not to try marijuana legalization in 2014" and "Will MPP doom a 2014 chance at Oregon marijuana legalization?")

Now, a new poll released in Oregon shows that the locals do seem to know more about the political climate for legalization here, with an astounding 57 percent of likely 2014 voters supporting a specific tax and regulate proposal for marijuana legalization.

Shortly after Washington and Colorado legalized marijuana, MPP's Executive Director, Rob Kampia, threatened Oregon locals with a complete cut-off of financial and organizational support if locals didn't support his vision of waiting until the 2016 presidential election to run a marijuana initiative:

"... there are already well-meaning activists in Oregon and other states who aren't remembering the efforts of well-meaning activists in California, who ignored the lesson of [waiting for a presidential election year] and pushed a risky initiative during a non-presidential election in 2010, which I'm sure felt good but succeeded at failing."

In addition to that public admonishment on The Huffington Post, Kampia sent a private memo to Oregon locals with more direct language (emphasis mine):

"As things currently stand, a [tax & regulate] initiative in [Oregon] in November 2014 would be expected to receive approximately 47 percent of the vote...

  • 47 percent baseline from November 2012
  • +1 percent because of better drafting
  • +2 percent because of advertising disparity
  • -3 percent because November 2014 isn't a presidential election

Given that an initiative in November 2014 would be almost certain to lose, MPP would contribute no money toward a signature drive, paid staff, or advertising during the 2013-2014 cycle.

... If, however, a [tax & regulate] initiative is placed on the November 2014 ballot, then [Oregon] will fall by the wayside and lose its time in the sun in November 2016, in the same way that California was premature in 2010 and was unable to raise any funding for a 2012 ballot initiative. (The comparison between [California's] past failure and [Oregon's] prospective failure is pretty precise.)"

In a subsequent town hall meeting in Portland this January, MPP's National Political Director, Steve Fox, responded to my question, "I agree that 2016 is an absolute 'slam dunk' but I don't see that 2014 is not a 'layup'... strike while the iron is hot... if 2014 is a roadblock, how can we get past it?"

"I think what Rob [Kampia] was probably saying... is not necessarily that MPP will bail.  Who knows what will happen?  ... But we've been in this situation before where in 2009, we were trying to encourage there to not be an initiative in California in 2010."

Who knows what would've happened if, early in the Prop 19 campaign, instead of sitting on its wallet, MPP was spending money to educate and advertise for the measure? After Richard Lee had spent $1.5 million of his own money to get it on the ballot, no big funders stepped up to support it until the waning weeks before the election. It's a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy to say mid-term initiatives can't win when you don't fund them.

"But in terms of the momentum... the seven-point bump [we get from a presidential election year turnout] and the likelihood of not knowing what's going to be happening in Washington, whether there will be diversion issues... you just don't know. You might feel it's momentum now, but it might be coming in the other direction in 2014.  I would never say that winning in 2014 is impossible, it might be possible, but you're going to have to invest a lot of money and then not know.  [...] People in Oregon might say, 'we did a poll today and it says we have 58 [percent] support, so I think we're going to be all right.' And then you spend X hundreds of thousands of dollars on a signature drive and you get it on the ballot and then, all of a sudden, all the newspaper reports are negative stories about how Washington's initiative is being implemented.  And then all of a sudden you drop to like 53% and then you get the mid-term election drop that occurs when people actually vote because it's a more conservative electorate than what you got in your polling in February of 2013.  And then you might end up with a loss. For what? You had a guarantee in 2016 and now you don't have 2016. So is it worth it? Do you wanna like, roll the dice?"

So... don't move in 2014, even with a 58 percent poll, because bad news over the next 18 months may doom it. But if we wait until 2016, we can overcome 42 months of bad news? And how does a potential loss in 2014 doom 2016 any more than the loss in 2012 did?

According to our poll from May of 2013, of registered, likely 2014 voters (aka "a more conservative electorate"), when read a lengthy statement explaining a tax and regulate initiative in great detail, 37 percent would "definitely vote yes", 18 percent would "probably vote yes", and 3 percent are "leaning toward yes". That's 57 percent (there's some rounding) that say they'll support legalization in Oregon in 2014. Using Rob Kampia's formulae of +2 percent for advertising and -3 percent for a mid-term election, this still looks like a layup to me.

In the next poll question, voters are asked, "Regardless of how you feel about this specific initiative, do you think marijuana should be taxed, regulated and legalized for adults?" On that issue, 51 percent -- a majority! -- strongly agree and 13 percent agree, for a total of 63 percent (again, rounding) of 2014 Oregon voters who support legalization in general. That's two out of three, almost, who are on our side.

The landscape has changed. MPP is still fighting for legalization with pre-legalization strategy. Now that marijuana is legal in two states, the whole perception is different among the voters. We are the majority now. Legalization's no longer a pipe dream (pardon the pun); it's a money vacuum sucking dollars from Portland to Vancouver. Supporting legalization is no longer something taboo because you're endorsing criminality, it is now a legit policy option that two states have realized. If there is going to be bad news from Washington's implementation, it will come in the form of annual DUID stats, youth use rates, and diversion estimates that won't be made public until late 2014, when figures from 2013 can be collected and published. Better to jump at the opportunity to pass legalization in 2014 with one year of bad news than to allow three years of bad news to poison the well for 2016.

Besides, this year, for the first time in my reporting history, all the Oregon locals are working together, they have already gotten leaders from every other national organization but MPP to join them at the table, they're pushing sensible language that can actually pass, and they have some big funders with some commas in their accounts. This part of the landscape has changed, too; as entrepreneurs sense the impending "green rush", there are more deep pockets than just Peter Lewis'.