Radical Russ: Oregon Looks to Tweak Marijuana Legalization in Short Legislative Session

Oregon is one of many US states that holds a biennial legislature – every two years. But like many of those states, they’ll declare an “emergency” and hold a short session in-between those two years.

That’s the case this year, where the Oregon legislature is meeting in Salem for just 35 days. In that session, they have numerous plans to tweak the legislation they passed just last year to regulate Oregon’s recreational and medical marijuana markets.

House Bill 4014 was voted out of committee Tuesday. In that bill, the lawmakers are trying to undo a mistake they made last session by repealing a two-year residency requirement for investment in the Oregon marijuana industry.

Prospective growers, processors, wholesalers, retailers, and testers complained to Salem that without out-of-state investment, the industry would be relying only on a handful of rich in-state investors and that could lead to monopolization of the market. Others with rich family out-of-state argued that the requirement unintentionally ruined the plans of in-state entrepreneurs looking for investment from an uncle or aunt.

On the medical side, lawmakers are seeking to reduce Oregon’s highest-in-the-nation medical marijuana registry card fee of $200 to just $20 for veterans. Currently, only a veteran on 100 percent disability can qualify for the reduced fee.

Another fix is in to return to a previous standard for verifying medical marijuana purchases at dispensaries. The legislature had changed the law to require the patient display his or her official Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) card to shop at dispensaries. The problem is that there is such a backlog at the OMMP that it takes four months to get a card, leaving patients with a valid doctor’s recommendation unable to get medicine legally.

The fix will return the standard to what it had been since the beginning of the OMMP, where once a patient has turned in their recommendation form and paid the state for a card, the stamped receipt of said payment was enough proof to enter a dispensary.

Another change will be to allow the medical marijuana industry to deduct on their Oregon taxes all the expenses that the recreational industry will be allowed to deduct, which was written into the previous recreational regulations.

Finally, medical marijuana will be given the same status as prescription drugs when it comes to pre-trial release, parole, probation – meaning no more drug testing of medical marijuana patients for THC metabolites while under correctional supervision.

In the Senate, the lawmakers are hearing Senate Bill 1511, which would allow the recreational-use stores that will be opening in summer of this year to also sell marijuana to medical card holders tax-free (there will be a 17 percent state and 3 percent local tax on future recreational purchases). 

Also, the bill would allow the current medical dispensaries to sell edibles and concentrates to all shoppers, not just patients (currently, recreational shoppers can only buy 7 grams, four seedlings, or seeds at a medical marijuana dispensary).

Who knows, if Oregon keeps going down this path, maybe someday they’ll end up at the logical conclusion of having one entity that taxes, regulates, and inspects the whole marijuana industry, from grow to process to test to sale. 

Maybe there will just be one set of buildings where all adults buy marijuana, but the ones with OMMP cards can buy more and get it tax-free. Maybe then the country will see that there doesn’t need to be any such thing as “medical marijuana” except as it allows for greater possession and a tax break.

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