By Sharon Bernstein
(Reuters) - An initiative seeking to legalize, tax and regulate recreational marijuana in Oregon has qualified for the November ballot, the state said on its website on Tuesday.
Only two U.S. states, Washington and Colorado, currently allow recreational marijuana, which remains illegal under federal law. Oregon's proposal will come before voters just two years after they rejected a similar measure.
"This is a moment we've been waiting for, that we've worked months to get to," said Peter Zuckerman, spokesman for the campaign in favor of the Oregon initiative. Since 2012, when voters turned down a similar measure, public support has grown for legalized marijuana in the Pacific Northwest state, he said.
If passed in November, Oregon would be the latest in a string of U.S. states to liberalize marijuana laws, either for recreational or medical use. On Sunday, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill allowing children and adults with epilepsy to use marijuana to treat their seizures. Twenty-two U.S. states have passed laws legalizing medical marijuana.
Voters in Alaska also will decide on a recreational marijuana initiative in November, and a similar measure is being vetted by election officials in Washington, D.C.
Proponents of the Oregon initiative submitted 88,584 valid signatures from voters in favor of placing it on the ballot, the elections division of the Oregon secretary of state's office said in an update on Tuesday, more than the 87,213 required to qualify.
"Every signature represents an Oregonian who believes it’s time for a new approach to marijuana," Zuckerman said. "We've been trying the black market approach for 40 years and it's not working."
Kevin Sabet, co-founder of the national anti-marijuana group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said recent sales of now-legal marijuana products, including baked goods, has led to "disastrous" public health problems in Colorado, where there have been a number of reports of children ingesting cannabis-laced sweets.
If the measure passes, money-fueled big marijuana businesses would bring the same problems to Oregon, he said.
"Despite already having the most lax marijuana laws next to Colorado and Washington, big money, special interests from D.C. are now descending onto Oregon in order to create the next Big Tobacco of our time," Sabet said.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Calif.; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Peter Cooney and Eric Beech)