The Path to the Ballot

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November 7, 2014
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On Tuesday night Oregon voters approved Measure 91 to tax, regulate and legalize marijuana. It passed with a resounding 55.7% of the vote, a wider margin than had been predicted by polling leading up to the election. The New Approach Oregon ballot measure campaign was led by Liz Kaufman, and she and her entire team should feel proud of the win. This was no slam-dunk; it took a great campaign to secure victory.

Like many ballot measures, the legalization effort had an interesting path to the ballot, one that goes back several years. In mid-2011 we were approached by a small group of cannabis legalization supporters led by Travis Maurer. Their vision was a different approach to marijuana legalization in Oregon – one that set good public policy by finding compromise and including all interested parties  – even opponents – in the dialogue.

We worked as part of a team that included legal counsel from Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, lobbying from Oxley & Associates and research from DHM. Gard’s role was issue management and communications strategy.

The team introduced HB 3371 in the 2013 legislative session, not expecting it to pass necessarily, but knowing that introducing the bill would spur serious debate in the Legislature and editorial pages, adding legitimacy and maturity to the issue. After the session, the team refined HB 3371 into a proposed ballot measure.

In the spring of 2013, the team invited national funders to a key meeting in Portland at the Schwabe offices and made the case that a regulate-and-tax measure could pass in Oregon and could pass in 2014 – there was no need to wait until the “presidential” vote in 2016 as most pundits claimed.

By the end of 2013, funding was in place and Liz Kaufman was retained to manage the campaign. The rest, as they say, is history.

At Gard, we had a deeply held personal interest in getting involved. Because of our work in transportation safety, we understand the importance of public education, law enforcement, and alcohol and drug programs to reduce the awful impacts of impaired driving. And, as a result of our work in health care, we have seen the positive but under-regulated impact of medical marijuana.  Through taxation and regulation, Measure 91 will give Oregon better ways to manage the use of marijuana.

Measure 91 is a good example of the maturing of an issue, from the passion of a few into policy that benefits everyone. We are proud to have played a role in making this policy a reality.

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