Merging Medical and Recreational Marijuana Makes Sense


The Oregon Legislature has completed its short session and has once again made significant changes to marijuana laws in the state. By all appearances it seems like the legislature’s goal has been to merge the medical and recreational marijuana systems in the state.

I think that’s a fantastic idea that is best for both medical and recreational consumers, especially in the Portland area.

The first step was when the legislature passed the so-called “early sales” bill. That law allowed the existing medical marijuana dispensaries to sell to all adults 21 and over. Sales were limited to just 7 grams of cannabis flower and four seedlings, so there would still be plenty of flower for patients. Edibles, tinctures, and concentrates were still off-limits to recreational consumers, though.

This was a laudable move, motivated by Sen. Ted Ferrioli’s observation that if we were legal to possess and grow as of July 1, 2015, but had nowhere to acquire marijuana, we would simply support the black market until our recreational shops open in September 2016.

What has happened instead is that some people are satisfied with 7 gram purchases, but others find that a short drive across the Columbia River into Vancouver, Washington, takes you to multiple shops that will sell you a full ounce at far lower prices than found in Portland. The shops there will also sell you edibles, tinctures, and concentrates.

This session, the legislature continued the process of merging the two systems. Laws were passed that allow the existing dispensaries to add edibles, tinctures, and concentrates to the menu for all adult shoppers. Future recreational shops will be able to sell their products to medical marijuana patients tax-free. New licenses have been created to allow for micro-canopy grows and for non-profit dispensaries to continue purchasing product from medical growers. (Some of these bills have been passed and signed by the governor, others still await her signature as of press time.)

That means sometime this fall, there will be one building called a dispensary where anybody can go in and purchase marijuana products, but patients make those purchases free from tax. Then there will be another building called a pot shop where anybody can go in and purchase marijuana products, but patients make those purchases free from tax. The recreational products will come from recreational grows to be regulated by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) and the medical products will come from medical grows to be regulated by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA).

These nearly identical parallel systems for producing, regulating, inspecting, and distributing marijuana add unnecessary cost to taxpayers and unnecessary paperwork for cannabis entrepreneurs and caregivers. Merging the two only makes sense.

One criticism I’ve heard about the idea of merging is that patients have much more sensitive needs for their medicine, in terms of being contaminant-free and medically effective. That sounds like “It’s OK for recreational consumers to be poisoned by lousy weed.” Just make the inspection and quality standards for marijuana products that which will suffice for patients. I guarantee that we recreational consumers will not mind getting clean, powerful weed.

Another criticism is without a medical-only system, there will be a dearth of patient-specific products, like high-CBD oils, for instance. But that’s not how supply and demand works. If there is a huge demand for, say, vacuum cleaners, it wouldn’t matter if there was a dedicated vacuum cleaner shop in your town or a Wal-Mart. If people want to buy vacuum cleaners or high-CBD oils, someone will sell them, it doesn’t matter where they will be sold.

A third point is that many places in Oregon are going to outright ban any sort of recreational marijuana, but might accept a medical marijuana shop. Well, the only difference between a patient and a pothead is that Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) card. In the future, bans of recreational marijuana would simply become a requirement for an OMMP card to enter a pot shop.

Another reason for merging the systems is the issue of location. Currently, there are over 250 medical marijuana dispensaries that must be 1,000 feet from schools and such. That means the medical side has already poached all the best locations in any given town. If new pot shops have to be separate and have to be 1,000 feet from the dispensaries, it pushes the recreational shops to the faraway fringes of any given town.

Let there be an entity that licenses, regulates, and inspects marijuana in the state of Oregon – I’d prefer a new cannabis-only commission stocked with people who’ve actually used cannabis, rather than the current squares on the OLCC – but let there be just one entity. Let there be one universal system of grows, processors, extractors, testers, and retailers to serve both patients and potheads alike.

That’s not to disregard patients’ needs. Let the OMMP remain and issue cards to patients. That card, shown at a universal pot shop, gets you a tax-free purchase and allows you to purchase in greater quantities. It allows the patient to maintain greater home-grow allowances and possession. It allows the patients and their caregivers to sell excess marijuana to the non-profit OLCC shops. It also provides that out-of-state coverage in the other medical states that have reciprocity.

Why does this need to be so difficult?

Russ Belville

"Radical" Russ Belville is a blogger, podcaster, and host of The Russ Belville Show, a daily two-hour talk radio show focused on the evolution of the legal marijuana industry in the United States. The program is airing live at 3pm Pacific Time from Portland, Oregon, on, with podcast available on iTunes and Stitcher Radio. Russ began his marijuana activism in 2005 with Oregon NORML, then in 2009 went on to work for National NORML, and found and direct Portland 2015.