Oregon Lawmakers Consider Consolidating Pot Regulation

Strawberry Fields filling out in Eric’s garden. (Photo by Brian Jahn)

Oregon probably has the most progressive marijuana legislation in the nation.

However, the state’s bureaucracy has not managed to keep up with the fast moving pot industry, try as it might.

What’s the problem?

Starting January 1 of this year, dispensaries that had been serving both recreational and medical customers were faced with a decision to either continue going through the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) for their medical licenses or the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) to become recreational outlets.

Those MMJ dispensaries—the vast majority, naturally—that chose to turn in applications to become recreational vendors are still waiting in line, a very long line, to hear from inspectors at the OLCC, which regulates recreational pot sales.

Until they pass OLCC inspection, these dispensaries cannot sell any recreational weed, and it’s been a disaster for them.

“Ninety percent of revenue has been lost with this change,” one Portland dispensary owner told the Willamette Week. “It’s been hard. We’ve had to cut the staff’s hours and temporary layoffs in order to keep the business going.”

Some vendors and growers have had to close down completely until their recreational license comes through.

Right now, almost 200 dispensaries statewide are temporarily barred from selling recreational marijuana, due to OLCC holdups.

Now, state legislators are moving toward consolidating Oregon’s medical and recreational marijuana industries into one regulatory system—that is, everyone out of the Oregon Health Authority and into the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

Advocates such as Tom Burns, a marijuana policy consultant and former health authority administrator, said health authority officials from the beginning were reluctant overseers of the MMJ program.

In time, it became apparent that two separate systems made little or no sense because of OHA’s disinterest in regulating the program, added Burns, to the Daily Astorian.

“The medical suppliers, growers and patients said let us get it out of OHA to somebody who does want it and will work with us to make a program that works for us,” Burns said.

Although in fairness, it must be noted that part of the idea of having separate regulation was to keep costs down for MMJ patients. The OLCC’s fees are higher for almost everything and regulation is much stricter. Whereas, the Health Authority’s system relies largely on self-reporting and charges lower fees for registration and licensing.

“A lot of people have griped about OMMP (the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program) and OHA over time, but as they look at OLCC, they are starting to fall in love with OHA and OMMP again,” said Carl Wilson, a member of the legislative marijuana regulation committee.

Wilson, like others, still supports consolidation so long as medical growers and suppliers are charged lower fees and if MMJ growers can sell on the recreational market, which they are now prohibited from doing.

So, the quandary is: when medical marijuana has been functioning a certain way for years—in the case of Oregon, since 1998—then along comes legal recreational marijuana, how do you fairly and efficiently combine the two? California is facing many of the same issues.

Here’s an idea. How about establishing a separate agency, specifically for cannabis regulation—it being such huge industry?

If any state can do that, it’s Oregon. With progressive Oregon Governor Kate Brown, one should not be surprised if that doesn’t happen one day.

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