The Associated Press, Sept. 26, 1997

Group says it has signatures to block recriminalization law

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- A group that led efforts to liberalize marijuana laws in California and Arizona says it has enough signatures to stall a new Oregon law that recriminalizes possession of small amounts of the drug.

The law passed by the 1997 Legislature to reverse Oregon's 24-year experiment of decriminalizing possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is due to take effect Oct. 4.

Formed less than one month ago, Citizens for Sensible Law Enforcement claims to have raised about $100,000 for a referendum effort to block the law from going into effect until voters can decide the issue.

A spokesman says the organization has gathered the 49,000 signatures needed to put the measure on the November 1998 ballot. The deadline for submitting signatures to the secretary of state is Oct. 3.

"We're on track," said Todd Olson, a petition sponsor. "Our goal is to get 80,000 (signatures). We want to be sure."

"Quite a change for Oregon marijuana initiatives," said Bill Zimmerman, a California consultant who is working on the referendum.

The effort differs from a decade of futile attempts to legalize marijuana in the state. Five initiative efforts have failed to reach the ballot in the past decade. The last measure to go before the voters, in 1986, failed by a 3-1 ratio.

Businessmen Peter Lewis, John Sperling and George Soros, who largely bankrolled the campaigns in California and Arizona last year, have contributed much of the money raised in Oregon.

They say the war on drugs is a failure and waste of tax dollars and have spent millions of dollars of their own money on initiatives that would change the nation's drug policy.

A rival group also is working to send the Legislature's recriminalization measure to the voters. Headed by several of Oregon's veteran marijuana activists, the group claims to have gathered about 28,000 signatures.

In July, they asked the California campaign for help, but not everyone agreed on tactics.

Citizens for Sensible Law Enforcement wants to run the type of mainstream campaign that succeeded in convincing California and Arizona voters that marijuana had legitimate medicinal uses, Zimmerman said.

Olson is a legislative aide to state Rep. George Eighmey, D-Portland. Eighmey unsuccessfully proposed a measure in the legislative session that would have made marijuana legal for medicinal use.


Portland NORML notes: The office number for the CSLE signature drive is (503) 233-4299.


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