Oregon’s teachers’ union said that it supports a proposed statewide measure to decriminalize drug possession in principle—but it isn’t taking an official position on the initiative for now because it would result in less marijuana tax revenues for schools as monies are diverted to supporting substance misuse treatment programs.
In a comment filed with the secretary of state last week, the Oregon Education Association (OEA) described the decriminalization proposal as an “ambitious initiative” that would “ensure that all Oregonians with a substance abuse disorder have access to affordable and effective treatment, as well as support services and stable housing once treatment is completed.”
OEA wrote that its members “see first-hand how drug addiction and involvement in the criminal justice system can ravage Oregon’s families and children.”
But while the organization “supports these policy objectives” of the proposed 2020 drug decriminalization ballot measure, it expressed concerns about how the initiative and the treatment programs it calls for would be funded. In order to pay for those services, petitioners want to redirect some cannabis tax revenue funds away from schools.
OEA said this is the “most troubling” aspect of the initiative because it “essentially caps the marijuana tax revenues available to fund schools, by requiring the transfer of all revenues in excess of $11,250,000 ($11.25 million) quarterly into the new drug treatment fund.” As it stands, 40 percent of marijuana tax revenue goes toward the state’s school fund, and that’s projected to amount to about $104 million during the current biennium.
Given the proposed revenue caps, OEA said schools stands to lose “$65.7 million, almost a two-thirds reduction,” which would go to a “Drug Treatment and Recovery Services Fund” instead.
“This is a big hit to education, and one that will get bigger as marijuana revenues grow.”
The organization criticized the attorney general’s draft ballot title of the measure, stating that it puts an emphasis on decriminalization without sufficiently conveying to voters the costs of drug treatment programs that would have to be funded. It said the summary “must be substantially revised” to reflect the costs.
“Again, the Oregon Education Association supports the policy behind this initiative,” OEA concluded. “But as a practical and legal matter, it is essential that voters understand how the program will be paid for and the impact on education funding. The ballot title fails to do so and must be revised.”
A spokesperson for the decriminalization campaign told Oregon Public Broadcasting, which first reported the teachers’ union’s comments, that funding drug treatment programs would have a positive impact on schools and student families and said they look forward to “continuing the conversation with” the union.
Interestingly, one of the chief petitioners of the initiative, Anthony Johnson, also submitted a comment last week asking that the measure’s ballot title and summary be revised to put a greater focus on its drug treatment aspects.
A representative who prepared the comment for Johnson, who also served as chief petitioner for Oregon’s successful 2014 marijuana legalization ballot measure, wrote that he felt that “addressing the predominant major effect of IP 44 in the second clause of the caption effectively buries the lede.”
Oregon voters may also see a separate measure on the 2020 ballot that would legalize psilocybin mushrooms for therapeutic purposes, establishing facilities where adults could get treatment with the psychedelic. When that initiative was initially filed, it included provisions decriminalizing drug possession, but the group behind it dropped that language in a revised proposal after hearing that a broader decriminalization initiative would be backed by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA).
DPA said that it supports the decriminalization initiative but has not yet decided to what extent it will be involved in funding the signature gathering process.