Oregon voters passed Ballot Measure 91 in 2014 by a significant margin, effectively legalizing marijuana for recreational use in the state. While that may sound simple, the legislative and regulatory entanglements surrounding the voters’ decision could hardly be more complicated.
Right now, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission regulates the cultivation, processing and sale of all retail marijuana products, including flower, oils, edibles, or anything else cannabis-related. The Oregon Health Authority, as it had since the legalization of medical marijuana use in 1998, was still tasked with overseeing medical marijuana cultivation, processing, and use.
A couple of Oregon legislative bills aim to change that structure. First, Senate Bill 1057 (SB1057), which may become law as soon as November 2017, will place all medical marijuana cultivation and usage under the OLCC. All medical cannabis growers and patients would fall under the banner of the OLCC and its vast Cannabis Tracking System (CTS) at https://www.metrc.com.
Small-scale medicinal growers and processors could find this to be a seismic shift in their operations. Medical growers would need to abide by the same technical and financial requirements faced by retail growers, but without the same prospect for profit. There is no clear path to the retail marketplace for medical growers. Their prospects are especially constrained given that medical growers are restricted to 48 plants per half-acre — hardly an efficient use of farmland.
On top of the regulatory and financial burden (medical growers would face another $480 annually to use METRC on top of pre-existing grower fees), SB1057 also appears to restrict immature plant/flowering plant ratio for medical growers to 2-1 – a restriction that does not exist for recreational growers.
Indeed, since the beginning of 2016, the number of medical marijuana patients choosing the OHA’s path to securing possession of their medicine has declined by 90%. It would appear the state is essentially creating regulatory burdens designed to squeeze medicinal marijuana out of the state’s marijuana industry.
The proposed legislation is also a clean-up of sorts. Senate Bill 1057 codifies the requirement that all OLCC applicants under ORS 475B.010 disclose the name and address of each person who has a “financial interest” in the business operations of a cannabis grower or processing company. Oregon Administrative Rule 845-025-1030 already requires this of applicants for OLCC licensees, which suggests that perhaps the OLCC was facing some challenges on this rule, or felt insecure in its standing to enforce that requirement. Whatever the outcome of those challenges, the OLCC will likely soon have explicit legislative authority to back up its argument.
In addition to the Senate Bill, House Bill 2198 (HB2198) would change the name of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to the “Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission.” The Commission would consist of nine commissioners, include representatives from each congressional district in Oregon, and require that at least 5 come from the cannabis retail industry. This sea-change in the OLCC’s identity seems to recognize the profound impact that cannabis production and sales have had on the state’s economy.
The House Bill appears to throw a bit of relief to medical growers, giving them a path to put some of their product into the retail industry; 20 pounds per year could be drummed into the OLCC recreational system for retail sale from medical grows.
Whatever your thoughts on marijuana as medicine (for eons it has been used to treat anxiety, epilepsy, arthritis, insomnia, etc.) vs. entertainment, the pace of legislation over this plant appears to show no sign of slowing.