Willamette Week, Vol. 23, No. 46, September 17, 1997

News Buzz:
Double Vision

Unflattering characterization Over the past few years, marijuana advocates in Oregon have been effective at little more than comic relief. Now there is some evidence that they're getting serious - or at least half of them are - although they've taken a long, strange route to get there.

It all started in July, when the Legislature passed HB 3643, which recriminalized possession of less than one ounce of pot. After two decades of legalization in Oregon, pot proponents were understandably upset.

They decided to take their cause directly to the voters in the form a ballot measure. Giving their organization a catchy name - The Real Joint Ways and Means Committee - Jon E. Zimmer and Frederick J. Oerther began gathering signatures for a "reeferendum" that would prevent the law from taking effect.

Before long, things got testy. A dispute over campaign strategy led to a split between the pro-pot forces, and a separate group, Oregonians for Sensible Law Enforcement, started its own campaign to re-legalize pot and is circulating its own petitions for a separate measure that is worded exactly the same.

Zimmer is bitter. The competing referendum is "a completely parallel and identical action," he says. "They didn't want me or my co-chief petitioner to have anything to do with it."

The problem, according to organizers of the competing campaign, was one of style rather than substance. Rather than talking about the right to get high, Michael Rose and co-chief petitioner Todd Olson are focusing on the fact that recriminalization gives police broadened search and seizure powers. "Treating this as a smoke-in is the wrong approach," says Rose, a criminal-defense lawyer. "That approach is counterproductive in terms of garnering mainstream support."

The two identical referendums are now in a pitched battle for nearly 50,000 signatures, which they must gather before Oct. 4. With the clock ticking, competing signature-gatherers have been out on the streets touting the benefits of their particular petition - even though both do exactly the same thing. "There's a lot of confusion out there," Zimmer says, noting that voters can sign both petitions if they choose.

Zimmer's petition is currently in the lead, with more than 26,000 signatures at last count. - MO [Maureen O'Hagan]



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