Marijuana Is Legal In Oregon: What’s Next?


The countdown to Oregon’s Legalization Day has come and gone, as well as the first public party, organized by Portland NORML Executive Director (and Marijuana Politics blogger) Russ Belville and Oregonians are waking up to a day that has been more than 9 decades in the making. Some, are simply ecstatic with the new laws. Others have mixed feelings as they aren’t pleased by changes made to the Measure 91 legalization law and the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) by legislators. Some could even be classified as “Debbie Downers” and are saying “So What?“. Some of us are in-between–very happy with the progress that has been made, celebrating the monumental achievement of legalizing marijuana, but also acknowledging that more progress needs to be made regarding cannabis laws and the greater Drug War.

Marijuana Is Legal In Oregon: What’s Next?

First up, for most of us anyway, is celebrating. Thousands of people joined the Portland NORML celebration on the Burnside Bridge last night to revel in the state’s newfound freedom and for the photo-ops in front of the “Portland, Oregon” sign. Portland, has long been tolerant of the cannabis community, and with full legalization, will rival Denver, San Francisco, Oakland, Amsterdam, Vancouver, or any other city as the most cannabis friendly city in the world. The celebration was so big in Portland last night, that #BurnsideBurn was trending on Twitter and “Burnside Bridge” was trending on Facebook.

Many advocates decry the public consumption and party, rightfully concerned about the optics of people immediately violating the law and how the scene of public smoking can cause a backlash with folks that may be on the fence regarding marijuana legalization. While I acknowledge the concerns of activists that fear public smoking events hinder the overall cause, I completely understand the desire to publicly celebrate freedom and think that activists need to be realistic that these type of events are going to occur in major cities. Thousands of people in these cities have been discriminated against and have felt like second-class citizens, so it is only natural that they will want to join other members of the cannabis community in public and declare their equality and freedom.

After the initial parties and celebrations, the cannabis community will follow the last several days of the Oregon Legislative session and Governor Kate Brown’s pen. Today, Governor Brown signed House Bill 3400, with some good provisions, some bad. Senate Bill 460, allowing medical dispensaries to start selling marijuana to adults on October 1st, has passed the Senate and should pass the House in the next few days, and advocates expect Governor Brown to sign that bill as well.

After the legislative session ends on July 11th (or possibly a few days earlier), advocates and cannabis industry entrepreneurs will start focusing on the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) Rules Advisory Committee (RAC) meeting. The OLCC RAC consists of a wide swath of interests from those involved with the passage of Measure 91 (like myself), industry representatives, government officials, concerned citizens and law enforcement.

The OLCC RAC will hear the opinions of lower sub-committees that will tackle lab testing requirements, licensing, growing regulations, retail rules, etc. and then cast votes on a variety of rules and regulations for the new regulated cannabis industry. If any regulation has four RAC members dissenting, then there will be a majority and a minority report prepared that will be sent to the OLCC Board of Commissioners. In the end, the OLCC Board will have the final say. RAC and sub-committee meetings have already began and will continue thru October, possibly into November; the rules will be finished by December, allowing the OLCC to start accepting applications for marijuana business licenses on January 4th, 2016. Marijuana nurseries and growers are likely to be licensed first, with retail stores likely opening on July 1, 2016, at the earliest, October 1st at the latest.

In addition to the OLCC RAC proceedings, the Oregon cannabis community will be fighting potential bans all across the state. Under the newly-signed House Bill 3400, cities and counties that didn’t support Measure 91 with at least 45% of the vote can ban marijuana businesses without a vote of the people. Localities where M91 garnered 45%, must give the public an opportunity to vote on any bans in a November General Election. Activists will be lobbying city council members and county commissioners to not pass bans, or refer the to the people. In the communities that do pass bans, many folks will look to gather signatures to place a referendum on the ballot to overturn the bans. If the local governing body refers the bans to the people for a vote, then local advocates will work to defeat the bans on the ballot.

Want to Stay Informed?

If you want to stay informed, sign up for alerts from the OLCC and monitor the city council and county commission agendas in your area. You can also sign up for New Approach Oregon’s email list as the organization will continue to work to keep people informed. And finally, think about attending the Oregon Medical Marijuana Business Conference (OMMBC) to get the latest information. (Full disclosure: I help organize the OMMBC). The OMMBC, held in Portland on September 12-13 at the downtown Hilton, will provide both the latest information regarding the Oregon medical and recreational systems and provide information regarding how you can be a strong advocate for the cause. Unlike most marijuana business conferences, the OMMBC provides information regarding activism, understanding that political savviness is imperative for any cannabis entrepreneur. If the October 1st early start for medical dispensaries proceeds as expected, the timing of the OMMBC is rather perfect. And as always, the OMMBC not only provides great info, but also great networking opportunities.

More Drug War Reform to be Done?

Legalizing and regulating marijuana was a great first step. Next legislative session, Oregon cannabis law reform advocates will look to prevent or delay medical marijuana garden plant limits; allow the establishment of adult-only smoking or vaping lounges; and further decrease marijuana law offenses so they are completely in line with alcohol.

After marijuana laws are further improved, further Drug War reforms are needed. Too many nonviolent, low-level drug offenders are needlessly sentenced to prison. Drug users need support, not draconian punishment. Treatment needs to be available for those that need help and we need to rehabilitate people instead of wasting hard-earned tax dollars on incarceration and punishment. Portugal has had great success decriminalizing personal drug use and Oregon can be the Portugal of the United States, setting an example for the rest of the country.

I look forward to helping move all of Oregon’s drug laws to where they need to be; continue to check back to Marijuana Politics and New Approach for updates and sign up to stay informed and get involved. July 1st is a day for celebrating for both how far Oregon has come in our struggle for marijuana freedom, but also because the day exemplifies that concerned citizens can band together and make important changes. I am so happy to have played a part in Oregon’s great achievement, but we aren’t done yet: step by step, until we are all free.

Anthony Johnson

Anthony, a longtime cannabis law reform advocate, was Chief Petitioner and co-author of Measure 91, Oregon's cannabis legalization effort. He served as director of both the New Approach Oregon and Vote Yes on 91 PACs, the political action committees responsible for the state's legalization campaign. As director of New Approach Oregon, Anthony continues to work towards effectively implementing the cannabis legalization system while protecting small business owners and the rights of patients. He sits on the Oregon Marijuana Rules Advisory Committee and fights for sensible rules at the legislature as well as city councils and county commissions across the state. Anthony helps cannabis business comply with Oregon's laws and advises advocates across the country. He also serves as content director of both the International Cannabis Business Conference and the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference, helping share the vision of moving the cannabis industry forward in a way that maintains the focus on keeping people out of prison and protecting patients. He was a member of the Oregon Health Authority Rules Advisory Committee, assisting the drafting of the administrative rules governing Oregon’s state-licensed medical marijuana facilities. He first co-authored and helped pass successful marijuana law reform measures while a law student at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. He passed the Oregon Bar in 2005 and practiced criminal defense for two years before transitioning to working full-time in the political advocacy realm. His blogs on Marijuana Politics are personal in nature and don't speak for or reflect the opinions of any group or organization.