Cities should lighten up on marijuana – Statesman Journal
Oregon’s venture into legal recreational marijuana will be a learning experience for everyone involved, from private citizens to local governments to state regulators. Medford City Council members’ recently expressed concerns about the city’s prohibitive stance toward both medical and recreational marijuana are an example of the kind of thoughtful approach that should result in a better outcome in the long run.
Last spring, the city declared a permanent moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries after the Oregon Legislature passed a law to permit them. But in November, voters statewide legalized the possession and private use of recreational marijuana by adults.
The city also enacted a tax on recreational marijuana, along with many other cities. Jackson County votes will be tabulated next Tuesday on whether to levy a tax on both medical and recreational marijuana in unincorporated parts of the county.
Regardless of how city officials feel about marijuana, Oregonians will be legally allowed to grow it starting July 1. Cities already are debating regulations on backyard growing to minimize odors that might bother neighbors. If retail sales of marijuana are outlawed in an entire city, that could prompt more people to grow their own, increasing neighborhood conflicts.
Taxes, too, have a downside. Measure 91, the legalization initiative, says only the state can tax marijuana. Local governments are lobbying the Legislature to change that, but lawmakers at all levels should think twice.
Washington state voters legalized marijuana in 2012. The state taxes were set much higher than the $35 an ounce specified in the Oregon law. Lawmakers in Olympia are now considering bills to lower Washington’s tax rates because black-market dealers are able to undercut licensed retail stores.
This is uncharted territory for Oregon, but much can and should be learned from the experience of Washington and Colorado.
Medford city councilors will discuss the marijuana issue in a study session at noon Thursday, March 12 at City Hall. A calm, practical approach that recognizes the reality of legal marijuana use while enacting reasonable controls for everyone’s benefit will be better than heavy-handed attempts to over-regulate and over-tax.
— Mail Tribune, Medford, March 5
Rein in Oregon’s medical marijuana
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission last week told the Legislature what it needed in order to craft regulations for an accountable retail recreational marijuana market. The list is huge and includes requests as mundane as requiring sales clerks at marijuana shops to carry permits, much as any bartender would. But one request is key and poses complication: The OLCC wants lawmakers to decide whether Oregon’s flourishing but unregulated medical marijuana program will be tracked from seed to sale so that all pot moving through the retail system is accounted for and priced competitively.
Estimates by the OLCC call for recreational pot to initially capture just 20 percent of marijuana sales in Oregon. In a letter to lawmakers, OLCC Chairman Rob Patridge states: “The recreational system will have to prove its superiority in terms of security, quality, convenience and price to overcome the illegal market … and a medical system largely free of regulations and associated costs that will be present in the recreational system.” More challenging still: “Federal guideline compliance will be diminished if Oregon Medical Marijuana Program licensees or growers are allowed to produce or sell product through the recreational system.” Most challenging of all: “Because plants and product are not tracked in the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, the program cannot provide assurance there is no diversion to the black market.”
Patridge’s comments are significant in that they are a blunt claim by a top official that medical marijuana needs reining in if a recreational market is to flourish and achieve Measure 91’s aim of decriminalizing the drug by driving out the black market. Put another way, the OLCC, in following federal guidelines to implement a regulated recreational market, would run a fool’s errand to implement Measure 91 if the medical marijuana program were to continue untethered and place some of its products alongside those in the highly regulated recreational market.
Medical marijuana could continue in its own orbit, of course, however weird and unfair. It is true that many medical marijuana growers have built solid, creditable relationships with their clients, whose sometimes highly specific needs are met. But medical marijuana could not, in the absence of tracking technology that should begin at all marijuana grow sites and extend to all retail cash registers, rationally find itself under the same roof as recreational marijuana. And that’s where legal marijuana belongs in an open market in Oregon: under one roof.
It’s high time that leakage of so-called excess marijuana from some medical marijuana producers be contained.
Practical considerations associated with implementation of a recreational market creep in. Oregon communities must soon find the room within their zoning maps to site new pot sales shops, which will face location limits and, minimally, the requirement to be situated a still-debated distance from schools. Portland, for example, already has dozens of medical dispensaries. Where, then, is the room for recreational-only pot shops? In Kirkland, Washington, voters robustly supported a statewide measure to legalize recreational marijuana but still struggle to site two stores as a not-in-my-backyard drama plays out.
Patridge is right: The Legislature should require that Oregon’s medical marijuana program, under the aegis of the Oregon Health Authority, embrace the discipline of accountability if it is to find so-called “co-location” with recreational pot sales. It’s high time that leakage of so-called excess marijuana from some medical marijuana producers be contained. While Measure 91 applies only to recreational pot, its goal of making the drug recreationally available and cheap enough to work against the black market cannot be achieved unless regulation extends to all forms of the drug.
Separately, lawmakers last week considered legislation that would change the terms of Measure 91. Senate Bill 542 would allow towns and cities to choose whether to collect retail sales taxes on recreational marijuana. Members of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Implementing Measure 91 heard Association of Oregon Counties attorney Rob Bovett deride limits upon cities and counties whose likely court challenges could snag the attention of the federal government – which, he noted, still prohibits marijuana. “Our entire licensing scheme is at risk,” Bovett told committee members, adding, “this would be a high-stakes game of legal chicken.” It was unclear whether Bovett found traction from committee members, but his legal arguments will be reviewed by legislative counsel.
Still, the larger issue demands debate soon by lawmakers: More than 70 cities, towns and counties in Oregon have staked a claim to tax retail recreational marijuana at the point of sale – this beyond Measure 91’s stipulation that they should not and that a simple state tax at the producers’ level would suffice. It may or may not, yet the claims by cities of how onerous Measure 91’s implementation would be are at this point speculative. Unknown is what the revenues will be once recreational weed is available, and hence the tax yield from it. Better that the Legislature at this point insist upon parallel regulation of medical marijuana and allow, at least in the first few years, a single state tax upon the sale of recreational marijuana to work.
— The Oregonian, Portland, March 7
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