Thousands Gather in Portland as Oregon Eases into Legal Weed

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon began easing into an era of legal marijuana Wednesday after an early morning pot celebration at the center of Portland.

A few thousand people jammed a sidewalk and bike lane on the Burnside Bridge at midnight Tuesday and counted down the moments until July 1. That’s the date voters established for adults to be able to legally possess and grow limited amounts of marijuana for personal use.

With the vote last fall, the state became the fourth with legal pot, after Colorado, Washington and Alaska. More than 40 years earlier, Oregon was the first state to decriminalize small amounts of pot.

“Oregon has long been a pioneer on sensible marijuana policies,” said Anthony Johnson, chief petitioner on Measure 91, the legalization initiative.

The latest measure, though, left many of the details of regulating pot to state officials, who aren’t nearly done.

The Legislature is on track to approve temporary sales through the existing medical marijuana dispensary system, beginning Oct. 1.

There are about 300 licensed shops, though not all are open yet. More than 70,000 people have state-issued medical marijuana cards.

Legal growing for a full retail rollout for recreational marijuana isn’t expected to begin until next year.

At the moment, adults can have up to half a pound and grow four plants. But there’s no way to buy the drug legally outside the medical trade.

Gifts, however, are legal, and there was plenty of gift-giving in Portland early Wednesday along the Burnside Bridge. The 1,400-foot span crosses the Willamette River, which divides the city roughly into eastern and western halves.

One man distributed drops of cannabis oil. Many celebrants smoked openly – which remains illegal – and passed it around.

A few patrol cars cruised by without stopping. Police earlier discouraged residents from calling 911 to report instances of public consumption, which they said failed to constitute an emergency.

Traffic flowed, generally without interruption. From time to time, chants arose, such as “Free the weed.” Medical marijuana dispensaries distributed coupons. Organizers said free pot samples would be available later at a nearby dispensary.

The Portland chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws announced the gathering. Organizer Russ Belville said the turnout was well beyond his expectation.

“Freedom is happening,” he chanted through a bullhorn as he walked across the bridge. “Beautiful.”

In southwest Oregon, a prime outdoor cultivation region, legalization came with growers anticipating January, when they’re expected to be able to start applying for licenses to grow for the retail trade. Permits for processers, wholesalers and retailers are expected to roll out in succession.

Over the past six months, Jackson County Building Services has received 17 complaints about marijuana growers violating land-use laws, Director Kelly Madding said. Trees along a creek were cut down, and a vernal pool, habitat for a protected species of freshwater shrimp, was bulldozed. Four citations were issued.

“With the legalization of recreational marijuana, I think that we are seeing a move to our area by people who may be from out of state, out of the area, who don’t really know or understand our land-use laws and our environmental protections,” she said.

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