23 Jun The State of Oregon Recreational Sales
On July 1, 2015, it becomes legal in Oregon for anyone over 21 to possess limited amounts of cannabis.
While this is cause for celebration, retail outlets will not be open for recreational customers until September 2016. So cannabis will be legal next month, but there will be no legal way to obtain it (other than as a gift from a medical patient).
The Oregon Legislature is working on a fix for this problem. Dubbed the “On Time Start,” the plan would allow Oregon medical marijuana shops to sell up to seven (7) grams of flower per day to adults without medical cards. My wife Meghan and I recently testified before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Implementing Measure 91 to explain why the On Time Start is such a good idea.
When cannabis becomes legal on July 1, Oregon will have hundreds of thousands of consumers with no outlet to buy any marijuana products. If we fail to provide them with safe, licensed venues to purchase these products, they will not simply wait until OLCC stores open on Sept. 1, 2016 (assuming they open by then).
Many customers will head north to Washington. A recent Oregonian article noted that the highest grossing retail marijuana shop in Washington is located in Vancouver (just across the Columbia from Portland). The article said that 50 percent of the shop’s customers are Oregonians. These sales represent economic activity and tax revenue we could be keeping here in Oregon.
Giving the black market a foothold
Others will turn to black market growers and sellers who will happily provide what they need. This will give black market growers a foothold in the industry, making it more difficult to dislodge them once legal sales begin. It will also incentivize black market growers to remain in the black market instead of encouraging them to join the legal industry.
That is the demand side of the argument. There remains a supply side argument as well. I know many cannabis growers who would like to participate in the legal system. Unfortunately, we produce significantly more cannabis in Oregon than we can legally transfer and consume under the OMMP.
This means growers without access to medical dispensaries are left with the choice of selling their product on the black market or letting it go to waste. It is neither a secret nor a surprise that a great deal of that product is diverted out of state.
This Out of state diversion was one of the top federal enforcement priorities listed in the “Cole memo.” Anything that we can do to minimize it will help keep the federal government out of Oregon’s business.
By opening recreational sales earlier, we provide a legal outlet for all of that cannabis. It can be legally sold to Oregonians instead of illegally sold in other states.This will bring a vast number of growers into the legal cannabis system, further weakening the black market.
Many small, family cannabis farmers who want to enter the legal marketplace are daunted by the task of compliance. The On Time Start would open access to the legal market while easing these growers into the regulated system. This would help more of these craft growers, who comprise the backbone of Oregon’s emerging industry, to make the transition.
Helping to protect Oregon businesses
Beginning legal recreational sales in 2015 will also help protect Oregon businesses. We currently have more than 300 dispensaries in Oregon, with scores more licenses pending. These shops are serving the same 70,000 patients served by 70 licensed shops a year ago.
I don’t know of a single dispensary that is thriving in this over-saturated market. With so many more dispensaries coming online in the near future, the situation will only worsen. In fact, I know of several shops that have closed or will close shortly because of these conditions.
This means the end of Oregon businesses and the living wage jobs that they create. The On Time Start would throw these businesses a much-needed lifeline.
Our state should create policy that assures that Oregonians will participate in this industry and that the majority of the jobs and revenue generated in this nascent market remain in Oregon. By starting recreational sales at Oregon medical shops, we guarantee that the first group of recreational businesses are locally owned, operated and staffed. We may find that these shops can adequately serve all of our state’s cannabis needs, in which case we will have built a uniquely Oregonian industry.
Some patients and medical marijuana activists have expressed concern that we would have an inadequate supply of cannabis to serve both the medical and recreational markets. As a patient who requires medical cannabis daily in order to eat, I understand these concerns.
July 1 2015 will be a landmark day
I believe, however, that they are misplaced. As noted earlier, Oregon produces more cannabis than it consumes. Even if we found that demand outpaced the supply of indoor cannabis, the outdoor harvest season begins in October and we would have access to all of this product by early November. This would keep most of Oregon’s sungrown cannabis in Oregon and continue to fuel local economies.
The liberation of cannabis continues to move forward, sometimes smoothly, other times in fits and starts. Whether Oregon begins retail recreational sales in 2015 or 2016, the fact remains that as of July 1, marijuana will be legal.
Regardless of how anyone feels about the On Time Start, we can all agree that it will be a landmark day for the cannabis plant.