S heriff Shane Nelson was recently quoted by The Bulletin that he has taken a stance — “no more recreational commercial marijuana grows in Deschutes County.” This flawed position fails to recognize that the root of the problem is not the recreational commercial — legal — cannabis industry. The problem is the illegal market that has existed in Central Oregon long before Oregon voters legalized recreational marijuana. Eliminating legal grow operations is not the solution. The solution is for members of the cannabis business industry to work together with law enforcement to eliminate the illegal market.
Since voters in Oregon legalized the recreational cannabis industry, this new sector has brought significant economic development investment to our community. Before implementing Measure 91, the State underwent a comprehensive process to develop a regulatory framework to support the industry and protect public safety. A stable regulatory framework is critically important to providing certainty and predictability for cannabis businesses in our community, an industry that according to Arcview Market Research will have “North American sales …. projected to top $20.2 billion by 2021.”
The legal recreational market in Oregon is licensed by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. The commission comprehensively regulates this sector every step of the way, from the application to the sale at a retail location. Every single person that touches the cannabis plant must have a marijuana handlers permit, completing and passing a test, background check and fingerprinting. Each licensed facility in Deschutes County is listed on the commission’s website to provide transparency for community members.
In addition to regulating people who handle cannabis plants, OLCC requires the plants to be tracked in the Cannabis Tracking System, or Metrc. Each licensee must designate a person to track his or her business’ plants and that person is required to take a Metrc class and pass its test. Once the commission approves an applicant for licensure, the agency’s inspectors ensure that each plant at each business is tracked. OLCC monitors the grow operations, and, if a business fails to track all of their plants and enter them into the system, OLCC has the authority to revoke the license.
Moreover, under the commission’s system, every batch of cannabis has to be tested by an Oregon Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program certified and approved lab for pesticides, micros, water content, solvents, and potency. The test results must be placed on the label identifying which lab tested each product. Packaging and labeling is closely scrutinized. All packaging must be in child safety containers and be pre-approved by the OLCC. Every applicant must have a “minor control plan” that specifies how the product will be kept away from minors. Recently, OLCC did an inspection of cannabis dispensaries in Deschutes County and the county passed 100 percent with compliance.
Recently, I helped co-found an organization called Celebrate Cannabis. Our mission is to advance the interests of the legitimate and responsible cannabis industry in Central Oregon through education, collaboration and celebration. One of the main reasons for starting this membership-based organization is to bring together the legal industry to help create solutions to problems that exist in our community. We want to understand how we can work together with law enforcement to implement solutions so this sector of our economy can thrive.
We have made tremendous progress in creating a regulatory framework that protects the public health and safety of Oregonians. Working with the legal cannabis industry is the solution, not the problem. Before making statements that could shut down legal businesses, we welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively. We very much look forward to working with the community so we can continue to nourish a thriving cannabis industry for the benefit of all of us here in Central Oregon.
— Jennifer Clifton is a lawyer in Bend.