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NORML opens new chapter in Portland

Portland is getting is its own chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws — NORML.

The new chapter was announced Wednesday, Jan. 14. Russ Belville, Portland NORML’s executive director, says the new group will complement an existing statewide chapter — Oregon NORML — but could push a little harder for issues important to Portland-area cannabis customers. There also are chapters in the Willamette Valley and the North Coast (a subchapter).

“The state affiliate has to react to statewide issues and rural voters,” Belville says. “It’s going to be more conservative. We feel we can go a little further in Portland than we can in other parts of the state. They’re not going to swing for the fences like we can in Portland.”

NORML, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit, has for more than 40 years represented the interests of adults who use marijuana. The organization’s Portland chapter is its first in the city.

“While Oregon approved of commercial marijuana legalization with the greatest margin of any state, over 56 percent of the vote, most districts in Portland passed Measure 91 with votes in the 70 percent to almost 90 percent range,” Belville says. “Yet Portland’s representatives in the state Legislature and the city’s executives are seeking to place restrictions and burdens on adult marijuana users clearly out-of-touch with the will of city voters and the lessons learned from mistakes made in Denver and Seattle.”

Lobbying focus

The key philosophy of Portland NORML, Belville says, is that responsible adult marijuana consumers should be provided the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as adult alcohol and tobacco consumers, whenever practical.

The local chapter is hiring a lobbyist to work with lawmakers in Salem, he says. The group also hopes to meet with city officials to discuss regulations and taxes on coming marijuana retail stores.

Lobbying efforts will focus on maintaining the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program registry card system; integrating all commercial marijuana production and sales into Measure 91’s framework; establishing places were adults can smoke or vape marijuana (vapor lounges or coffee shops); keeping taxation low so it doesn’t drive up the price of the legal pot; maintaining laws that affirm marijuana consumers’ right to work; establishing marijuana consumers’ equal rights; and, expanding personal cultivation rules.

‘Crafting that reality’

Belville, a Roseway neighborhood resident, was national outreach coordinator for NORML from 2009 to 2012. He also was second in command at the Oregon NORML chapter. He now operates 420radio.org, a 24-hour Internet radio news network focusing on marijuana issues. At 3 p.m. each day, Belville hosts a national talk show from his home radio studio.

As part of his national work, Belville says he became friends with the people behind legalization efforts in Colorado and Washington, leading to lessons in success and failures that can be transferred to Oregon.

“I’ve seen what’s working and not working in Seattle and Colorado, and we learned from that,” Belville says.

“Portland can be the place that stands as the gold standard for how American cities can successfully regulate adult marijuana use and commerce in the future. We look forward to working with the city, the Legislature and other stakeholders in crafting that reality.”