Ballot measures on cannabis unions, higher corporate taxes could be on November ballot

Just two of the more than 50 new laws proposed by Oregonians through the ballot initiative process stand a chance at appearing before voters in November.

Friday was the deadline for groups to submit the more than 100,000 petition signatures needed to give voters a chance to approve or reject ballot measures. Only two measures – one that would tax corporations more to give $750 annual payments to all Oregonians and one that would restrict union-busting in the cannabis industry – submitted signatures by Friday. 

If the Secretary of State’s Office confirms that both proposals collected enough verified signatures from Oregon voters, they’ll join three legislative referrals on the November ballot. Lawmakers in 2023 opted to let voters decide whether to give the Legislature the power to impeach top officials, let an independent commission set salaries for elected officials and change the way candidates are elected. 

Backers of high-profile measures to walk back Oregon’s drug decriminalization law and limit political spending used their signature gathering efforts as leverage to convince lawmakers to make the changes they wanted. Other proposed measures, including an attempt from the Republican state representative responsible for many of Oregon’s tough-on-crime laws to limit pretrial release and require state law enforcement to cooperate with immigration officials, ran out of time. And still other proposals, including a suggested constitutional amendment to quintuple the state House of Representatives, never stood a chance. 

Cannabis unions

Backers of Initiative Petition 35, the only of several proposed ballot measures from the state’s largest private sector union to move forward, submitted about 160,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office on Friday. It’s the latest attempt by United Food and Commercial Workers 555, the union that represents Oregon grocery workers, to make it easier to unionize the cannabis industry. 

UFCW first tried to pass House Bill 3183, similarly worded to the ballot measure, during the 2023 legislative session. When state Rep. Paul Holvey, a Eugene Democrat and chair of the House Business and Labor Committee, tabled the bill over concerns that it would conflict with federal law, UFCW launched a recall campaign against him. Holvey won the recall with more than 90% of the vote, though he chose to retire instead of run for reelection.

The proposed ballot measure would require cannabis retailers and processors to remain neutral in communications to employees about labor organizations and mandate that cannabis companies present a “labor peace agreement” with a pledge of neutrality when they apply for or renew their state licenses. Failing to do so could result in fines or license suspension. 

Michael Selvaggio, a lobbyist for the union, said Holvey’s concerns about the legality of this proposed law aren’t widely held and are a “non-issue” as far as he is concerned. 

“California, New York and New Jersey have all had these kinds of provisions baked into their cannabis policy since it was adopted,” he said. “There have been zero challenges of any kind of merit to this structure of organizing rights.” 

UFCW, the largest private-sector union in Oregon, has directed more than $2 million to the campaign.

Oregon rebate

The other ballot measure likely to move forward, Initiative Petition 17, submitted more than 168,000 signatures on Wednesday. It would increase corporate excise taxes to 3% on sales above $25 million and use the proceeds to send rebates to everyone in the state, including children. 

Backers estimate the average annual rebate would be about $750, assuming it brings in $3 billion in new taxes and the state population of more than 4 million. But opponents, including the state’s main business lobby group Oregon Business and Industry, warned that higher taxes could drive corporations to leave the state.

The campaign has raised more than $700,000, most from out-of-state donors. More than half its funding is from Jones Holding LLC, a California-based company owned by Josh Jones, a venture capitalist who supports universal basic income. 

Antonio Gisbert, the Portland resident who serves as chief sponsor of the initiative, did not return a call. 

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Julia Shumway is deputy editor of Oregon Capital Chronicle and has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.