Rep. Blumenauer: Ore. voters will legalize pot 'sooner rather than later'

PORTLAND, Ore. - The push to legalize marijuana across America took center stage in Portland Sunday.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer held a town hall meeting on marijuana reform, a topic that has gained steam since Washington and Colorado legalized possession of the drug last November.

The U.S. Department of Justice has not yet responded to those state-level changes.

Blumenauer, a long-time supporter of legalizing marijuana, says he has about two-dozen lawmakers working with him to reassess the government's policy on pot.

The Democrat told the audience gathered at the Dishman Community Center in Northeast Portland that he wants Congress to clear up the government's response to states that approve pot use.

"What I want to make sure is that the federal government isn't screwing it up, getting in the way of what local voters want to do and after they decide, not interfering with how local voters want to implement it," said Blumenauer.

The Marijuana Policy Project, a national advocacy group, plans to spend at least $700,000 in Oregon to try to convince voters that pot should be legalized in 2016. Advocates plan to target business owners, women and other groups they believe are key to turning public opinion.

"Talking to law enforcement, talking to seniors, talking to rural communities," said group representative Roy Kaufman. "We want to come to Oregonians in 2016 with a smart, compelling, strong approach to taxing and regulating marijuana."

Last year, Measure 80 failed by more than 110,000 votes statewide, although it passed by 75,000 votes in Multnomah County.

It takes 218 votes in the House and at least 51 in the Senate to pass a law, plus the approval of the President.

Blumenauer said he expects Oregon voters to legalize pot within the next decade. He says he plans to push legislation that will help marijuana-related businesses to secure bank loans and allow for hemp production.

"This is an area that is going to be changed," said Blumenauer. "It's going to be changed sooner rather than later."