50 States: Oregon

By Jon Young

Medical: Yes
Recreational: Yes
Decriminalized: Yes

“One thing I’ve learned in 30 years of travel is that treating marijuana as a crime does not work,” said Rick Steves, travel entrepreneur and advocate for legalization. “A better approach is to regulate it, legalize it and tax it. I’m an advocate for better policy, and that’s what Oregon will get once Measure 91 passes.”

And pass it did, with 56.1 percent of Oregon voter’s approval.

Measure 91 marked a historic moment for Oregon, as voters decided to legalize recreational marijuana beginning July 1, 2015, joining Alaska, Washington, D.C., Colorado and Washington State.

In Oregon, it is now legal to possess up to eight ounces of “dried” marijuana as well as four plants. And by October 1, 2015, thanks to an emergency bill signed by Governor Kate Brown, anyone, resident or not, can walk into a medical marijuana dispensary to purchase up to a quarter-ounce of cannabis per visit for recreational purposes.

The recent victory for marijuana advocates follows a long history of cannabis reform in Oregon, which was the first state to decriminalize marijuana in 1973. In 1998, it was one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana (MMJ) with the passing of Ballot Measure 67.

And in June 2010, the Oregon Board of Pharmacy reclassified marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II drug, making Oregon the first state in the nation to make marijuana anything less serious than a Schedule I drug. Throwing a bit of common sense into the face of the federal government’s non-sensical drug scheduling classifications. 

Currently, due to Governor Brown’s emergency measure, the October 1st roll-out of recreational marijuana is regulated by the Oregon Health Authority, which will limit purchases to a quarter of an ounce of dried cannabis flower, unlimited seeds and up to four plants from already licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. But, come 2016, it will be the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) that will regulate and oversee the cannabis and alcohol industry in Oregon.

According to The Oregonian, “draft rules for grow sites, pesticide use, retail sales and the production of concentrates and marijuana-infused edibles” were recently discussed by a state-appointed committee looking at marijuana regulation. One proposal caps indoor grow operations at 10,000-square-feet and outdoor operations at two acres, though other proposals limited operations to less than half that size.

It will be interesting to see how the OLCC, a heavily bureaucratic and oft-times criticized holdover from the prohibition era will handle the sale and regulation of recreational marijuana. Founded in 1933, the OLCC was Oregon’s attempt to maintain control of alcohol sales after the end of the temperance movement, making Oregon one of 18 states that is still considered a “Control” state, meaning hard alcohol can only be purchased in state-run liquor stores.

“The rules will be the subject of public hearings but not until sometime next year,” Steven Marks, executive director of the OLCC, said.

For now, the state will not limit the number of licenses it issues to growers, citing a desire to avoid large-scale corporate Philip-Morris type takeovers of the industry. But trying to determine the necessary supply to meet an uncertain demand remains an issue.

Other proposed regulations include:

  • Limit on the use of pesticides that may make it hard for some growers to deal with pest damage but will presumably ensure a safer product
  • Five-milligram limit of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) per serving in cannabis-infused edibles
  • Allowing home delivery of cannabis to people 21 and older, setting Oregon apart from Colorado and Washington
  • Seventeen-percent statewide tax on marijuana sales with a 3% percent local optional add-on
  • The tax rate makes Oregon more competitively priced than other states (e.g., 37 percent in Washington across the border) that legalized recreational use

Oregon is also blazing a new trail in regard to people with past cannabis-related offences. Two new laws have been passed alongside Measure 91 that will go into effect next year. The first mandates that courts must use the standards of the current law in cases regarding records-clearing—meaning anyone convicted of possession, growing or selling will be eligible to get a clean slate. The second law speeds up the process for those who were under 21 at the time of arrest.

“In criminal law reform on marijuana, Oregon has gone further than anyone else,” said Leland R. Berger, an expert on marijuana law based in Portland.

There is a lot left to be decided as cannabis comes fully into the Oregon market next year when the OLCC will begin to issue commercial recreational licenses to growers, wholesalers, processors and retail outlets on January 4, 2016. But come October, Oregon will once again be among the forerunners of the changing tide of cannabis culture around the nation.

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