Oregon’s Opportunity to Lead on Cannabis Policy


A day after the Oregon business plan summit ended, The Oregonian newspaper ran an editorial about Governor Kate Brown’s failure to lead.  It was a harsh rebuke of Governor Brown. No doubt being governor is hard.  But when it comes to cannabis in Oregon, failure to lead sums it up. The Oregonian followed up their rebuke of Brown with another editorial about the need to get our cannabis policy right and unfortunately our government isn’t doing enough to secure Oregon’s place in the market.

Who is the state’s cannabis czar? Who is advising the governor on the opportunity that cannabis and hemp present?  Who is bringing a level-headed evidence based approach to medical cannabis?  Exactly.

Oregon has been a policy innovator for generations. Our land use laws. Our public lands. Our voter laws. Our free speech laws. Our cannabis laws can be the same.

Oregon can be the green gold standard bearer for the world. But, it won’t happen, it will not happen, if the leaders of this state refuse to seize the day. So far, it’s been more seizures than seizing. But change is possible.

It begins with a shift in tone of voice. No more defensiveness. No more bigotry of low expectations. No more being grateful for crumbs. No more zoning like strip clubs, entering through the side door (or even worse.)

The cannabis community in Oregon needs to come together and demand leadership from our governor, our legislators, and our business leaders.

Let’s start here and now:

  1. Cannabis is a plant. It is non toxic.it is remarkably versatile as a medicine. It is not in the same category as other drugs we regulate far less like sugar, or caffeine or fat or salt or alcohol or tobacco what prescription pills. We know these things. Pot need not be regulated like plutonium. You want to regulate something to near oblivion? Start with bullets.
  1. Cannabis and hemp present exactly the economic opportunity that rural Oregon is literally dying for. Yet, at the big self-congratulations celebration known as the Oregon business plan summit earlier this week, was cannabis on the agenda?. Nope. Not one word. Instead everyone, check out cross laminated timber! Timber! Really? You know how much more those trees are worth standing up? Though the state’s most self important voices gathered to scream for innovation, for investing in education, for saving small farms, and rejuvenating rural economy is, cannabis didn’t come up. (Gee, Colorado just sent their public schools 50 million dollars and Pueblo County is funding community college scholarships with pot taxes quest, but what do they know?)
  1. Cannabis is already huge compared to other crops state leaders need to take a deep inhale and recognize cannabis is bigger than Christmas trees and blueberries and Oregon crab put together. And hemp feeds into Oregon’s manufacturing industries, our farming industries, our biofuel industries, our natural food industries, and so much more. Imagine the research we could do on hemp building materials at Oregon State University. Imagine the work we could do on hemp extract medicines. Imagine our best and brightest students pioneering advancements and not leaving Oregon to seek their fame and fortune.
  1. Time is ticking. California will likely have legalized in less than one year. We have great wine and grape vineyards here in Oregon. But what do we say? That the Willamette Valley is the Napa of Oregon. We have great tech companies here in Oregon, have for decades. But Silicon Forest is our Silicon Valley. We have fewer than three years before way more states come on line and Oregon stands by, watches another leadership opportunity roll on by, and then we can resume the conversation about how we can create jobs and fund our schools and pay our teachers. How about this time, we let future states call themselves the Jefferson County of Michigan or the Portland of Florida?
  1. Cannabis is a natural medicine. And treating it accordingly could really help us with that opiate epidemic state leaders are rightfully worried about. Cannabis could help us with our veterans, with our sick, with the cost of prescriptions, the need for preventive healthcare, with that billion-dollar cancer adventure up on pill hill.

Look, this isn’t brain surgery, though that turns out to not be a great indicator of overall intelligence either. But the point is this: Oregon is having a moment right now. A convergence of thinkers, doers, craftspeople, tokers. And cannabis is everything that brand Oregon is: a different perspective; a more complex offering, a wonder of nature.

Oregon is blessed to have incredible leaders on cannabis at the at the federal level. Senators Wyden and Merkley and much of the congressional delegation with Representative Earl Blumenauer at the helm are strong articulate supporters of better cannabis laws.

Let us remember that the voters of Oregon ended cannabis prohibition. But obviously the stigma still hurts Oregon in ways we haven’t properly acknowledged.

This opportunity we have can only be seized by our leaders in Salem. Let’s help them see it clearly.