By Johnny Greene
The State of Oregon is a true pioneer when it comes to public policy, and that includes cannabis policy. Federal cannabis prohibition began in the United States in 1937, and it wasn’t until 1973 that the first state in the nation decriminalized cannabis for personal use. That state was, of course, Oregon.
Oregon was the second state to legalize cannabis for medical use in 1998 after California voters approved medical cannabis two years prior. Only Washington State and Colorado legalized cannabis for adult use (2012) before Oregon did (2014).
When Oregon voters approved cannabis legalization via Measure 91 roughly 6 years ago, provisions in the measure required that a certain percentage of cannabis industry taxes go towards Oregon’s public school fund. At that time, school funding was lower than it is now, and cannabis industry tax revenues in Oregon have smashed initial projections.
Back in 2014, economists estimated that Oregon’s legal cannabis industry would generate roughly $40 million annually. Current tax revenues from Oregon’s cannabis industry are over $130 million annually, and still rising. That, combined with the recent passage of a massive school funding bill in Oregon, creates a potential opportunity for some of that excess cannabis tax revenue to go towards something else.
The same campaign that successfully pushed for cannabis legalization in Oregon put another measure on the ballot for the 2020 cycle. Measure 110 is the first-of-its-kind in the nation. The measure would decriminalize personal possession of all drugs, and treat substance abuse as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice issue.
Under Measure 110 if someone is caught with a personal amount of a controlled substance (not cannabis, which is completely legal in Oregon) they will be subjected to a fine instead of arrest, and they can forgo the fine if they enter into treatment. That’s where Oregon’s cannabis tax dollars come in.
Cannabis tax revenues would be capped at $45 million, which is still above initial projections, and excess revenues would fund substance abuse treatment programs. The War on Drugs is a war on people, especially People of Color. It is no secret that the Drug War has had a disproportionate impact on Communities of Color, and Measure 110 will help fix that.
“Measure 110 doesn't raise any taxes as it uses existing excess cannabis tax revenue and law enforcement savings to allocate more than $100 million per year to fund treatment and recovery programs that will include access to drug treatment, peer recovery, transitional housing, job training, and harm reduction interventions.” says Measure 110 Chief Petitioner Anthony Johnson. Anthony Johnson was also the Chief Petitioner for Oregon’s cannabis legalization initiative.
The War on Drugs is the backbone of institutional racism. It is used as an excuse to inflict immeasurable harm on Communities of Color. Hopefully Oregon’s measure is the beginning of a trend in which every other state and the federal government follows Oregon’s lead.