Whom among us hasn’t been confused by a ballot question affecting local ordinances amidst the general election? In other words, was your vote for President as certain as your vote regarding a small-town referendum, like zoning codes? The impact of ballot questions obviously vary, but in the village town of Turner, Oregon, it led to residents accidentally allowing marijuana into city limits.
You may be wondering how that happens in Oregon, a state that legalized recreational marijuana in 2014. Well, at the time, local politicians weren’t as enthusiastic about the reform as state residents. So when Measure 91 legalized marijuana statewide, politicians produced a compromise—local regulation fell underneath a different category and “if a city or county wanted to locally prohibit recreational marijuana businesses, they needed to put the ban on the next general election ballot,” writes The Intercept.
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This worked for a town like Turner, where 57 percent of voting was a “no” on Measure 91. It’s a strongly conservative place, where residents supported Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by a 2 to 1 margin. In 2016, the compromise politicians had enacted was up for a vote in Turner, only things didn’t quite go according to plan.
To nobody’s surprise, they voted overwhelmingly — 63 percent — to prohibit the businesses in the unincorporated parts of their county. But to everybody’s surprise, this time, the town voted 51 percent in favor of allowing pot businesses within the city limits. “We were actually shocked,” Mayor Gary Tiffin told me.
Based on The Intercept’s analysis, the mix-up occurred from an awkward series of questioning. A small number of cities, like Turner, saw two different questions regarding a ban on marijuana businesses. The first question regarded prohibition of marijuana businesses in the county, while farther down the ballot they also answered whether to ban marijuana businesses within city limits.
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The difficulty lies within the ballot phrasing:
When county ban and city ban questions were phrased the same way, how precincts voted on the two questions was nearly identical. But in a few cities, like Turner, residents needed to vote “no” if they wanted to prohibit marijuana businesses in their county but also vote “yes” if they wanted to maintain their city ban.
Confusing to say the least.
The first weed store will open in a matter of weeks. And according to Turner’s mayor, the town is involved in “a laborious and tough lawsuit from a person in town who wants to put a grow operation in a residential area.”
Turner may consider placing the ballot in the 2018 election, but not until residents can sample the weed store’s offerings. Perhaps they’ll feel different about the issue afterwards. At the very least, they’ll be high.