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Can Medical Cannabis Survive in Oregon?

Oregon Medical Marijuana Cannabis Now


Can Medical Cannabis Survive in Oregon?

Photo Taylor Kent

Can Medical Cannabis Survive in Oregon?

Over 90 percent of the state’s medical dispensaries vanished in just one year.

In 2016 Oregon had over 400 medical marijuana dispensaries, but as of summer 2017, state records list only 30 — and not all of them are still in operation.

State officials say the current laws allow for a robust medical cannabis economy, but some dispensary proprietors are skeptical that the medical industry has a future in the state, which has seen a mass exodus of medical providers to the higher margins and less stringent regulations of the recreational market.

Some even wonder if the state will ultimately do away with the dwindling medical sector entirely.

The Grass On the Other Side of the Fence

Oregon became a medical marijuana state in 1998 and recreational cannabis was approved by the voters in 2014. While recreational regulations were still being hashed out, Governor Kate Brown signed a bill allowing medical dispensaries to sell to recreational customers until Jan. 1, 2017.

So when the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, medical dispensaries faced a choice; go back to the medical system — or — attain a new license and move into the recreational market.

The vast majority chose to do the latter.

Recreational cannabis is overseen by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, while medical cannabis is regulated by the Oregon Health Authority. The two require separate permits and have different regulations — regulations that can change at a moment’s notice. So business owners (particularly those trying to offer both medical and recreational cannabis) have to act quickly to remain in compliance.

This regulatory split applies to growers as well: The same grow cannot supply cannabis for both medical and recreational use in Oregon, which creates another potential choke point in the medical supply chain.

Debbie Jensen, manager of Green Cross Dispensary — a Brownsville medical dispensary in the process of adding recreational cannabis to its offerings — said both medical and recreational establishments are made to jump through various regulatory hoops, but medical regulations are stricter and change more often.

“When Oregon first opened up to medical, you go in and get your herb,” Jensen said. “Now you have to put your testing information out. You have to put more info on these labels than most medications The cameras, the locking system, the reporting system, the books, the inventory are all tightly regulated.”

With a substantially larger market and easier operations, more and more medical dispensaries are switching to recreational outlets.

Additionally, the OLCC allows recreational stores to sell “medical-grade” product, which is only available to medical card holders, but comes with a much less rigid set of standards than the medical regulations enforced by the OHA.

Medical card holders pay no taxes on their purchase — just like at a medical dispensary — giving recreational vendors the ability to cater to patients, as well as a much larger market that tourists can access. With the added benefit of comparatively lax regulation, it’s not hard to see why Oregon’s cannabis industry has shifted almost entirely to recreational shops.

But in other states like Colorado — the first state to start selling recreational pot — there are thriving recreational and medical systems operating parallel to each other. So what’s going on in Oregon?

Opinions differ.

Kit Doyle is a business partner at the Oregon Hemp Company, which transitioned from medical cannabis to hemp products to avoid the regulations associated with medical cannabis. He believes legislators and regulators are collaborating to kill the medical system with a “death by a thousand cuts” to redirect profits to recreational marijuana — which generates more revenue.

“They have successfully dismantled a perfectly good medical program,” Doyle said. “This is love of money over love of people.”

Jensen is more forgiving in her assessment.

“They want to make sure legalization can continue, so they’re being really tough now,” she said. “I think it will get better once it goes legal federally, which I believe it will.”

Jensen has heard rumors that Oregon’s medical industry will be shut down, but she remains hopeful that it will be allowed to continue.

Doyle? He predicts the medical marijuana industry in Oregon will continue to fade and, within a year a half, vanish completely.

Perhaps there is enough demand for the medical market to stabilize as a niche offering amidst a sea recreational shops. But consumer demand and state regulations both point toward recreational — it remains to be seen if medical cannabis in Oregon can hang on.

Featured in Issue 28 of Cannabis Now… coming soon. Make sure not to miss out on Cannabis Now’s “Medical Cannabis” issue by subscribing today. LEARN MORE

TELL US, are you worried a recreational cannabis industry might push out medical marijuana?



  1. Chris Wickman

    January 3, 2018 at 10:33 am

    Sorry to say Anthony (and I am assuming you are the Anthony on the new ADVISOR” group. You know as well as I that no matter how much the medical need is present the train has left the station. VERY Frustrating that the supposedly liberal Governor Honorable Kate Brown is way more concerned with taxable receipts for the State. Her inability to control the growth of State spending and the need for TAX DOLLARS from REC MMJ to close her financial gaps has and will hurt those who cannot fight back. The SICK and NEEDY were the reason that MMJ was made legal and available in the first place. Now as ALWAYS the Sick and the Needy will suffer the most. What a shame just remember all you stoners if it was not for the Sick and the Needy you would have NO ACCESS at all, and I do not even see anyone who is just a “GET HIGH” purchaser even giving a care to us who really needed the Medical Benefits. Please all you liberals out there never tell me that you care for those who need as you really only care about yourselves.
    C. Wah

  2. Anthony Taylor

    December 22, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    No mention of newly created Oregon Cannabis Commission tasked with establishing a long-term strategy to ensure medical cannabis remains accessible and affordable for those Oregonians who use therapeutic cannabis.

    In addition it was created to advise both the OHA and olcc on laws pertaining to medical cannabis.

    This Commission is late to the table but has a solid team to push cannabis as medicine and to make the rules more patient friendly.

    • Wah Farms

      January 23, 2018 at 9:57 am

      No it was not mentioned. We also know that if the State chooses to to go that route the focus will be on the CBD processing. The reality that the “entourage” effect (that process in the human that utilizes the multi-cannabinoides and Terpenes present) are so important for the “MEDICAL” uses will continue to be overlooked. So IF you are producing Hemp for CBD extraction only you must stay under the .3% THC Federal Guideline. What happens when the MANY realize that the benefits they received in the past and dosages will not be as reliable? Also now to attain a beneficial treatment you will need to purchase more than before? For some of the MEDICAL COMMUNITY you will/MAY lose the effectiveness for the condition you have finally been able been to treat/control. Who knows possibly this will lead to a faster tract to Reclassify but I doubt it. The KNOWN future financial benefits to, State coffers, GW Pharma and many of the big business industries are FIRMLY entrenched and I see the Medical Patient taking it on the chin!
      We suppose as long as you are healthy enough to “Grow your own” you will be able to care for your needs! But many cannot do this and many do not know how to extract even the simplest coconut oil concentration for easy ingestion. We will defiantly see many things change and each change will most likely mean that someone other than the Patient will need to be paid its “pound of flesh” along the way! But on the bright side we never thought we would get to see the day when we could be out of the shadows in the first place. The times they are a changing!
      ps We think some
      body from Hibbing Minn wrote a song titled that back in the 60’s!
      Peace and keep on tilling!

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