Senator Jeff Merkley Becomes First Senator To Endorse Pot Legalization


Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley has ventured into an issue that, so far, none of his fellow Senators have felt comfortable following:

Measure 91 would green-light marijuana for recreational purposes in Oregon and authorize the state to regulate and tax it. Colorado and Washington enacted similar measures in 2012.

“I think folks on both sides of the argument make a good case,” Merkley said. “And there is concern about a series of new products — and we don’t have a real track record from Colorado and Washington. But I feel on balance that we spend a lot of money on our criminal justice system in the wrong places and I lean in favor of this ballot measure.”

A vote for it would make Merkley the first U.S. senator to support making marijuana legal in his state.

Polling in Oregon has shown that Measure 91 has either majority or high plurality support, but its worth keeping two caveats in mind. First of all, all of these polls show a high number of people undecided on the issue so the results could go either way.  Second, California had a similar measure in 2010 called Measure 19 that was polling very well prior to Election Day but ended up being defeated in the end, so the polls may not reflect what happens when voters actually get in the voting both. Of course, that California vote happened before the success of the initiatives in Colorado and Oregon’s neighbor to the north Washington State, so the support for legalization may be more solid this time around. In any case, it may be the case that Merkley’s decision to effectively endorse the resolution at this time may be an effort to help it at the polls. The Senator himself is up for re-election this year and is going to win re-election easily, so perhaps he’s hoping to push Measure 19 over the top. Whatever his motivation, it’s good to see someone as prominent as a U.S. Senator getting behind the idea of reforming some of the more ridiculous parts of the War On Drugs.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Law and the Courts, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.