Image for Oregonians To Vote on Cig Tax and Drug Decriminalization

Oregon voters this fall will have a chance to weigh in on measures to tax cigarettes and e-cigarettes, remove criminal penalties for some personal drug possession and legalize mushroom-assisted treatment for depression.

The tax measure was referred to voters by the 2019 legislature. The other two measures are initiatives. The Oregon secretary of state has verified enough signatures to place the drug decriminalization initiative on the November 3 ballot. The psilocybin therapy initiative is still undergoing signature verification, but its backers are confident it will make it to the ballot.

The Yes for a Healthy Future measure would increase the tax on cigarettes from $1.33 to $3.33 per pack, bringing the tax rate in line with California and Washington. The measure also would tax e-cigarettes for the first time in Oregon. The tax increase is projected to generate $350 million in the coming biennium, with most of the funds committed to providing health care and smoking cessation support for those on the Oregon Health Plan.

Backers of the tax increase have raised more than $12 million, according to the secretary of state, and secured the endorsement of 137 groups. Tobacco companies are expected to run a well-financed opposition campaign.

The Drug Addiction Treatment and Recovery Act seeks to decriminalize small amounts of drug possession and divert a portion of state marijuana tax proceeds to expand access to drug treatment and recovery programs. It has attracted 50 supportive groups and generated more than $2.2 million in campaign cash. There aren’t any visible opponents, but quiet opposition could come from other state tax recipients that count on cash from weed sales.

Legalizing psychedelic mushrooms may be an idea born before its time in Oregon, assuming the measure does qualify for the ballot. Psilocybin has been studied since the 1960s for certain therapies, but its therapeutic use was sidetracked when it became classified by the federal government as a Schedule 1 illicit drug in 1970.

Denver gained notoriety in 2019 when voters narrowly approved a city ordinance decriminalizing hallucinogenic mushrooms by mental health professionals as part of therapy. So-called “magic mushrooms” are touted for therapies treating depression and anxiety. The initiative petitioners are Tom and Sheri Eckert, who are Portland therapists.

If on the ballot and approved by voters, the measure would permit a regulatory framework under the Oregon Health Authority. Because it hasn’t been qualified for the ballot yet, no financial information about the initiative has been posted.

What measures make it to the ballot is interesting, but it is often as or more interesting to note what didn’t qualify. It’s a long list that includes measure that would have eliminated a statute of limitations on sexual offenses, created an independent redistricting commission, banned possession of assault weapons and required sixth graders to undergo a firearm safety class.

Other noteworthy measures that failed to qualify include a proposal to impose a state sales tax, eliminate property tax for property owners over age 60, limit self-checkout stands at grocery stores, fine or exclude state legislators for unexcused absences, tax private casinos and remove even-year short legislative sessions.

Two referenda also failed that would have overturned key provisions of the corporate activity tax.