A referendum asking voters to legalize marijuana in Oregon by January 2015 appears to be gathering steam in the Oregon Legislature.
Senate Bill 1531, which was discussed at a Senate hearing Tuesday, would legalize pot for anyone age 21 or older. Specifics of the bill include language that would prevent the sale to minors and prevent the sale of marijuana to criminal organizations.
Medford police Chief Tim George opposed the bill.
"How is the state going to protect minors from more marijuana in the marketplace?" he wrote in a letter addressed to the local legislative delegation.
"The state has done a horrible job of regulating and enforcing the OMMP (Oregon Medical Marijuana Program), and the idea that Oregon will regulate marijuana even further once legalization happens is absurd."
The bill is being sponsored by state Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, and Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene.
"Are the voters tired of prohibition?" Buckley said in testimony before the Senate Committee on Judiciary. "Do the voters of Oregon believe the prohibition has done more harm than good?"
Buckley said voters would be asked to approve the general framework for marijuana legalization, but the Legislature would create the regulations to implement it.
He said Oregon would be able to learn from other states such as Colorado and Washington on how to create a regulatory system for legalization.
Buckley said Southern Oregon is well-known as a top area in the state for growing marijuana, which attracts illegal activity and related problems.
"How do you eliminate the black market in Southern Oregon?" he asked. "The black market is a scourge."
Buckley said the state could effectively eliminate most of the black market, but he acknowledged it would be difficult to get rid of it entirely, citing the problem of illegal cigarette sales as an issue that has not been resolved.
However, he said, that should not stand in the way of changing the law.
"I believe the majority of Oregonians are moving in the direction of legalization," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.