Oregon Lawmakers Getting Closer on Shaping New Pot Industry

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — In less than a month, Oregonians over age 21 will be able to legally grow, own and consume their own small amounts of recreational marijuana.

Legislators, however, are still working on the regulations that will govern the legal marijuana industry. After months of talks, they’re getting closer.

Oregon and Alaska both approved measures to legalize recreational marijuana last fall, following Washington state and Colorado, whose markets are up and running. Consumption of recreational pot becomes legal in Oregon on July 1.

As they hammer out the details of the larger retail marijuana industry, lawmakers are hoping to build a strong new economic sector for the state.

“The goal is to give everyone a fair shot at competing in this new marijuana market,” said Rep. Ann Lininger, D- Lake Oswebo, co-chair of the joint committee developing guidelines for the regulations. “We are welcoming people who want to invest in or come to Oregon and help us create a strong sector.”

Growers said they are excited by the prospect of coming into the mainstream.

“We are witnessing the surfacing of an old industry that’s 78 years in the making,” since Congress outlawed marijuana in 1937, said Richard Reames, a member of the board of directors of the Oregon SunGrown Growers Association. The group has hired a lobbyist to make sure its interests are protected in the Legislature.

Oregon already had a thriving medical marijuana program. Based on surveys of growers, Oregon consumes 160,000 pounds of marijuana a year, with up to 80,000 pounds consumed by the state’s 70,000 medical marijuana patients, said Seth Crawford, who teaches a class in marijuana policy at Oregon State University.

Based on interviews with Oregon lawmakers, state officials and industry representatives, there is strong support to let medical marijuana dispensaries, approved by the Legislature in 2013, also sell recreational marijuana.

However, it doesn’t look like retail operations will be able to sell recreational marijuana until late 2016, to allow time for setting up an orderly system for granting permits to growers, processors, wholesalers and dispensaries, and tracking pot from seedling to retail sales to keep it out of the black market.

Another issue has been how to satisfy indoor and as well as outdoor growers. Outdoor growers tend to be in southern Oregon, in the so-called Emerald Triangle, where there’s more sunshine. A lot of indoor growers are in the Portland area.

“I think that it is important for them to strike some sort of balance between the north and the south, the outdoor and the indoor,” said Donald Morse, a medical marijuana dispensary owner and director of the Oregon Cannabis Business Council. “It’s not just economics. It’s making sure that there’s enough supply, but not too much supply and the supply comes on a regular basis, and is not always just a land rush of marijuana in the fall from the outdoor harvest, while the rest of the year, people are starving.”

It looks likely that grower permits will give indoor growers and outdoor growers equal access to the market.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which has authority over recreational sales, could award grower permits based on the canopy area – the horizontal area covered by branches and leaves. Individual outdoor growers would have up to four times the canopy area because they only produce one crop a year, while indoor growers can produce up to four crops a year under artificial lights.

Oregonians seem eager to get started. The city of Vancouver – just across the Columbia River from Portland – has become one of the hottest cannabis markets in Washington state. Four stores have reported sales totaling more than $18 million – better than 12 percent of all retail marijuana sales in Washington.

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