Well, marijuana became legal after July 1st in Oregon and the sky didn’t fall, so the Oregon Legislature has deemed it acceptable for adults to be able to purchase marijuana earlier than expected following the passage of Measure 91 last November. Measure 91 explicitly established a deliberate process that won’t set up marijuana retail outlets for non-medical patients until the middle-to-latter-half of 2016. Senate Bill 460, allows up to 7 grams of marijuana flower only from existing medical marijuana dispensaries, starting on October 1st. Non-patients won’t be allowed to purchase any marijuana-infused edibles, extracts or concentrates. Senate Bill 460, the so-called “Measure 91 Early Start” bill passed the Oregon House by a vote of 40 to 19 today, sending the proposal onto Governor Kate Brown. The bill had previously passed the Oregon Senate 23 to 6. It seems unlikely that Governor Brown will veto a bill passed handily by the Democratic-controlled legislature.
Senate Bill 460 gives Oregon adults a safe, regulated establishment to acquire cannabis, helping ease Oregonians from the underground market, into the regulated system. From October 1st to January 4, 2016, the marijuana sales will be tax-free. On January 4, 2016, the tax for non-patients will be 25%. The temporary ability for medical marijuana dispensaries, regulated by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), to sell to non-patients, ends on December 31, 2016. Measure 91 retail stores, regulated by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), won’t be up and operating until July 1, 2016, at the earliest and most likely won’t be open until October 1, 2016. There will be a 17% statewide tax in the OLCC-regulated stores, while localities will be able to impose an additional 3% local tax. House Bill 3400, included a voluntary medical marijuana opt-in provision that will allow medical growers to provide marijuana to OLCC-regulated stores, providing medical patients a tax-free option in the OLCC stores as well.
Senate Bill 460, was ironically championed by Republican Senator Ted Ferrioli, who also championed the ability of cities and counties that didn’t support Measure 91 to ban marijuana businesses without a vote of the people. While I didn’t support the local banning provision, Senator Ferrioli should be commended for successfully advocating for a way for law-abiding cannabis consumers to have safe access thru state-regulated stores. Law-abiding adults won’t have to worry about breaking the law or depending upon the generosity of others on October 1st, if Governor Brown signs SB 460 as expected. While the 25% tax that kicks in on January 4th is a bit high, it still is much better than Washington’s tax and just under the effective tax rate in Colorado, even with Colorado decreasing the state marijuana sales tax by 2% to better compete with the underground market.
I will never forget discussing the early start idea with Sen. Ferrioli at the beginning of the session, thinking that the proposal was a long-shot that would need a lot of things to break the right way to pass the full Oregon Legislature. During several low points in the session, the early start seemed dead. Then, all of a sudden, thanks to the hard work of many, bipartisan compromises starting being made and the early start was revived. Marijuana policy seems to be one of the few issues that Republicans and Democrats can agree on these days as it has become apparent that legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana is a much better policy than prohibition. I thank all of the legislators that passed this bill and, so long as Governor Brown signs Senate Bill 460, the entire Oregon tourism market will start seeing a nice boost after October 1st.