In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Exclusive Interview: Merkley First U.S. Senator To Back Legalizing Marijuana

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AP Photo / Benjamin Brink

Measure 91 would green-light marijuana for recreational purposes in Oregon and authorize the state to regulate and tax it. Colorado and Washington enacted similar measures in 2012.

"I think folks on both sides of the argument make a good case," Merkley said. "And there is concern about a series of new products — and we don't have a real track record from Colorado and Washington. But I feel on balance that we spend a lot of money on our criminal justice system in the wrong places and I lean in favor of this ballot measure."

A vote for it would make Merkley the first U.S. senator to support making marijuana legal in his state.

Merkley didn't point to a time when he came around to the view that pot should be legal, saying it has not been an issue in his reelection bid. He's in good shape to win, according to recent polls.