Last November, Oregon passed the voter approved Measure 91, making it third state to legalize the sell and possession of recreational marijuana. Under the new law, residents of the state who are 21 years or older may possess up to eight ounces of marijuana and own up to four plants for their own personal use. All of this will go into effect on July 1, 2015.
However, like with the other states who have legalized recreational marijuana, the state government must create guidelines and regulations regarding how the products will be sold to the general public. Looking to regulate the substance in a similar way the state treats alcohol sales, the legislature has called upon its Liquor Control Commission to help formulate these new rules.
After concluding a number of public opinion listening sessions with the Joint Committee on Implementing Measure 91 in order to gather information regarding how voters would like the new recreational marijuana laws in Oregon to be regulated, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission has issued one of its first statements to the Oregon Legislature about its plans for the future of the marijuana industry.
The OLCC has issued a warning to the Oregon Legislature against allowing medical marijuana and recreational marijuana to be sold from the same stores or locations throughout the state. Because the medical marijuana industry in Oregon doesn’t currently regulate the products until it reaches the dispensary, the OLCC is concerned that it may adversely affect the already existing medical marijuana industry.
Rob Patridge, Chairman of the OLCC, wrote a letter to leaders of the Oregon House and Senate explaining his concern for the unregulated system in place and how it could be inadvertently causing the marijuana black market in the area to swell.
Tom Towslee, the interim communications director for the OLCC recreational marijuana program, explains that “government authorities assume that some portion of the marijuana grown for medicinal purposes leaks onto the black market; for that reason, an unregulated system could not exist alongside a regulated system for recreational marijuana.”
Currently, the Oregon Health Authority has jurisdiction over the state’s medical marijuana program. Towslee said that there have been discussions within the state about whether to bring both the medical and recreational programs under the jurisdiction of the OLCC, but they are even wary about this as well.
“What we asked the legislature was, if you’re going to give the medical marijuana program to the OLCC, we’d rather not have it if it’s going to be the same unregulated system that feeds the black market,” Towslee said.
Other than inadvertently feeding the black market, the OLCC’s highest priority included within their recommendations to the state legislature is ensuring that minors don’t get ahold of marijuana, just like with alcohol.
In the OLCC’s report, the commission wrote: “It is not age discrimination to enforce age restrictions against minors consuming alcohol. The same should be made clear for enforcing marijuana age restrictions.”
Local dispensary owners are also in favor of the proposed regulations, hoping that it will help to solidify the state’s marijuana market. With a large number of them attending almost every listening session, growers and dispensary owners were able to voice their opinions to the joint committee and ensure that the market is going to be run and regulated to their standards as industry pioneers and state voters.
Aviv Hadar, president of Oregrown Industries Inc., agrees with Patridge and claims that his letter “is essentially a statement that articulates that the state and industry need to build a box that doesn’t leak. We all need to build a box that doesn’t leak to the kids or the black market.”
Despite the need for a more tightly-regulated medical marijuana industry, many Oregon dispensary owners are still open to the idea of selling recreational marijuana in their stores when it becomes legal. They believe that the committee is capable of formulating a well-regulated system for the incoming recreational industry,and will hopefully be able to apply this to the medical industry as well. Owners and growers want simply to create the best industry that they can for the state.
“What our legislators are looking at,” said Oregon grower Peter Grendon, “is avoiding the mistakes of Colorado and Washington. I and others are committed to moving the industry forward and making sure the industry is well-regulated and operating in a socially responsible manner.”
While avoiding the mistakes of Colorado and Washington, Oregon is still basing their marijuana industry models on the precedents set by the two previous states. Because both Colorado and Washington have instituted a seed-to-sale tracking system for both their medical and recreational marijuana industries, the amount of marijuana that somehow ‘leaks’ from the industries and into the black market is dramatically reduced.
Differences will still exist with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment overseeing the medical marijuana program and the Department of Revenue overseeing the recreational industry. If Oregon decides to regulate their two programs like Colorado and Washington and grant jurisdiction of both programs to the OLCC, then the state could set a new precedent for future states to follow if they eventually decide to legalize marijuana as well.
For now, the OLCC is working with Oregon legislators and the Joint Committee on Implementing Measure 91 in order to formulate the new regulations and attempt to adapt them to the currently unregulated medical marijuana program all before the July 1 deadline.
What are your thoughts on separating medical and recreational cannabis programs? Share your thoughts in the comments.