Oregon Cannabis Retailers Are ‘Ready to Roll’ on Adult-use Sale

   

With the legislative session winding down, we’re starting to have a clearer sense of how Oregon will implement cannabis legalization in the coming months. The members of the Joint Committee on Implementing Measure 91 have – in spite of numerous obstacles – produced a solid framework for advancing cannabis policy with HB 3400, which passed unanimously.

This could not have been done without their hard work, determination, and thoughtfulness in navigating this very new and very nuanced area of public policy. All of them – from both legislative chambers and from both parties, even those who didn’t support Measure 91 – have largely approached this issue with a fresh perspective and an open mind.

All of the folks that have been actively involved in the process are able to get to a place of agreement because they seem to ultimately share the same goal: eliminating the costs and public safety risks of cannabis prohibition, and extinguishing the underground market. In the process, we also want to satisfy what little guidelines we have from the federal government – and one of their top directives is to stop legal cannabis from leaking into the black market. That means making sure as much cannabis as possible remains in the state, and is sold through our legal, regulated, taxed system – and that the money generated from sales funds schools instead of fueling drug cartels.

To that end, the Joint Committee on Implementing Measure 91 must pass SB 460, which allows our existing medical marijuana dispensaries licensed by the Oregon Health Authority to sell marijuana to all adults 21 and older much sooner.

As of July 1st Measure 91 goes into effect and it will be legal for people to have cannabis, but not legal for them to obtain it – forcing people without their medical marijuana cards to grow their own [and many will], or to buy it on the underground market [exactly what lawmakers are trying to avoid]. Without SB 460, that will remain the case until OLCC’s retail stores come online, which they think might happen by sometime in late 2016!

A report compiled last year by the Brookings Institute last year identified six key factors that led to Colorado’s successful rollout of retail marijuana sales early in 2014. Oregon has largely followed in Colorado’s footsteps, and the framework put together by legislators does a great job of incorporating almost all of these strategies. All except one – creating an interim period where existing cannabis dispensaries can service the adult-use market.

We’ve surveyed dozens of dispensary owners statewide, and they all say the same thing – they’re ready to roll. As a state we already produce more than enough cannabis to meet our existing demand, so finding enough product is not a challenge and Oregon is unlikely to experience an extreme spike in retail prices like in Washington, which had several artificial supply constraints.

Even the Legislative Revenue Office thinks that the state would need as little as 4-6 weeks to develop a ‘rudimentary but effective’ mechanism to collect taxes from retailers on interim cannabis sales, the basic framework for which is currently being examined by the Joint Committee on Implementing Measure 91 this week. There aren’t any good reasons not to proceed as soon as possible.

It’s a no-brainer. Oregonians are able to possess and consume marijuana legally as of July 1st, 2015 – so why not let people buy it through our tightly regulated system of marijuana dispensaries? Why wait until late 2016?

If the Joint Committee on Implementing Measure 91 is serious about diverting supply from the underground market, generating tax revenue for schools, and adhering to the will of the voters, they must pass SB 460.

Growers, retailers, and regulators are all ready to roll. Let’s get the ball rolling.

Casey Houlihan

Casey is the Executive Director of the Oregon Cannabis Retailers Association (ORCA). Before being selected to lead ORCA, Casey managed the Eugene Office for the New Approach Oregon Vote Yes on 91 campaign to legalize and regulate marijuana.