Early marijuana sales program approved by key Oregon legislative committee – OregonLive.com
SALEM — A key legislative committee on Thursday approved a bill to create a program allowing temporary marijuana sales starting Oct. 1 to adult recreational consumers at existing medical marijuana dispensaries around Oregon.
Legislators on the House-Senate marijuana committee said consumers should have a legal place to buy the drug not long after possession becomes legal July 1. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which is charged with licensing recreational marijuana retailers, has said it won’t be ready to allow shops to open until the second half of 2016.
Supporters of a temporary sales program at dispensaries said this is a way to avoid a new surge of demand for pot on the black market. The legislation, Senate Bill 460, includes restrictions limiting the extent of sales.
Recreational buyers would be limited to one-quarter ounce of dried marijuana buds and leaves per day. They could also buy seeds and immature plant starts to grow at home. Consumers would not be allowed to buy other marijuana-laced products such as food or concentrated forms of the drug.
The Oregon Health Authority has issued about 310 dispensary licenses, and more than 90 applications are pending On its website, the authority lists 222 dispensaries that agreed to be publicly identified. Ninety-one are in Portland.
Many dispensary owners have pleaded for the temporary sales program, saying it will help them survive in an oversaturated market. Sam Chapman, an industry consultant who works with a seed genetics group, said he surveyed Portland dispensaries and found that only about a quarter were breaking even.
The legislation would also allow city and county governments to bar the temporary sales program — so it might not take place in many of the communities where local officials don’t want marijuana retailers and have taken steps to keep out dispensaries. Under the bill, counties could decide to prohibit early sales in unincorporated areas, and city councils would have sway over their areas.
To take effect, the legislation still must win approval from the full House and Senate and be signed into law by Gov. Kate Brown. The governor has not said publicly whether she supports early sales. OLCC officials strongly oppose the idea, saying the state should wait until the agency has strict controls in place to ensure that marijuana is stringently tested and comes from legal sources.
“I think [Brown] will look at it very carefully,” said Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland and the co-chair of the Joint Committee on Implementing Measure 91. She said the unanimous support for the bill in committee indicates strong overall support in the Legislature.
Chapman and other industry advocates said early sales should start as soon as possible, in part to reduce the pressure on medical marijuana patients to buy pot for their friends.
“There’s almost an incentive for [medical marijuana patients] to do this,” said Chapman, noting that 40 percent of them are on some form of government assistance.
Opting out of the marijuana business
What happens when a city or county doesn’t want to allow marijuana businesses? Here’s a quick roundup of how the Legislature is moving toward answering the opt-out issue:
MEDICAL AND RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA SALES: In the 15 counties — all in eastern Oregon — in which at least 55 percent of voters opposed Measure 91, local governments can vote to ban medical marijuana dispensaries, recreational marijuana retailers, producers, processors and/or wholesalers.
In other counties, any prohibition on marijuana businesses must be submitted to a vote of the people. Any locality that bans any aspect of the marijuana business is not entitled to any marijuana tax revenue from the state and cannot levy local pot taxes.
EARLY SALES PROGRAM: The Legislature may allow sales of recreational marijuana to start as early as Oct. 1 at medical marijuana dispensaries. City councils anywhere in the state can vote to prohibit these early sales within their boundaries, and county commissions can ban sales in unincorporated areas.
— Jeff Mapes
Rep. Ann Lininger, D-Lake Oswego and the other co-chair of the Measure 91 committee, said it makes sense to wait until Oct. 1. That gives the Oregon Health Authority time to put detailed rules in place for the program, and time for city councils and county commissions to decide whether they want to participate.
In addition, she said, the fall outdoor marijuana harvest will be coming in by October, ensuring plenty of supply for both medical and recreational consumers.
Geoff Sugerman, a lobbyist for the Oregon Cannabis PAC, said he thinks the Oct. 1 date also will help build political support among lawmakers for going ahead with early sales.
“It does make the overall Legislature a little more comfortable with moving forward on adult sales,” he said. “This is the path that will bring the most legislators on board with the bill.”
If the bill becomes law, marijuana sales won’t be taxed until Jan. 4. At that point, another measure, House Bill 2041, calls for a 25 percent tax on pot sales to recreational users.
The temporary sales program is set to end no later than Dec. 31, 2016, at which time OLCC-licensed stores are expected to be open (and many dispensaries are expected to convert to recreational sales). Under HB 2041, recreational users in those OLCC-licensed stores would pay a 17 percent sales tax on marijuana. Local governments could also add a 3 percent tax with the approval of their voters.
A Portland official said Thursday that the city would be unlikely to try to prevent early sales of recreational marijuana.
“I don’t believe that at this point our council has any interest in opting out,” said Theresa Marchetti, livability program manager in Portland’s Office of Neighborhood Involvement. She said the city is starting a work group next week of community members, neighborhood groups, marijuana business owners and city officials to discuss how to best regulate the industry.
Officials in other cities that have been less receptive to legal marijuana said Thursday that they haven’t had a chance to talk about early sales, should the bill pass both chambers.
“We haven’t discussed it,” said Jon Holman, Forest Grove’s community development manager. “We’ll wait until the Legislature sorts everything out.”
Hillsboro’s spokesman, Patrick Preston, said “it’s a little early” to discuss its approach to early sales. A Gresham official said the topic hadn’t come up there yet, either.
Andrew Theen contributed to this story.
— Jeff Mapes