Oregon must ban marijuana products and marketing that appeals to kids and should establish a retail market that doesn’t “through neglect or necessity unintentionally divert” cannabis to the black market, the governor wrote in a letter to the state agency charged with regulating recreational cannabis.

Gov. John Kitzhaber, who earlier this week said Oregon’s recreational marijuana possession limits are too high under the new law, outlined his priorities in a letter to Rob Patridge, chairman of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, and the agency’s executive director, Steve Marks.

Kizhaber described the issues facing the liquor control commission, including how to deal with marijuana-infused edible products and concerns over the proximity of growers, processors and retailers to childcare facilities and schools. Protecting children and promoting “safety and health” should be the commission’s top priorities, Kitzhaber wrote.

“The magnitude of challenges and pitfalls to implementing Measure 91 cannot be overstated,” the governor wrote. “We have an opportunity to learn from the state that have forged this path before us and create a system that serves Oregon’s best interest.”

The governor sent the letter this week, in time for the five-member liquor control commission’s first major briefing on marijuana since the law passed in November.

The Friday meeting, held in a room decorated with photographs of craft distilleries and liquor stores from the era after prohibition’s end, drew about 150 people. The crowd included commercial medical marijuana growers, dispensary owners and lawyers working with the marijuana industry, as well as local government representatives and law enforcement.

Commissioner Marvin Revoal, a former Springfield and Eugene police officer, briefed his colleagues on his recent trip to Colorado to see the marijuana industry. He said the trip was eye opening and highlighted legal marijuana’s economic potential.

“This is an economic engine,” he said. “This is our Silicon Valley. This is our Napa Valley. We have a great opportunity to be the leader in the country. Others will follow if we do that correctly.”

He said Oregon should take note of lessons learned from Colorado, especially its high-profile experience with the risks and hazards of edible marijuana products.

Few speakers at the meeting mentioned Washington’s recreational marijuana system as a potential model. Washington doesn’t regulate medical marijuana, setting it apart from Colorado. Oregon regulates medical marijuana dispensaries; production of medical cannabis is unchecked. 

“I don’t see Washington state as a competitor,” Revoal said. “I see Colorado as a competitor and Alaska wanting to be a competitor.”

Alaska, like Oregon, voted for legalized marijuana last fall.

Rob Bovett, legal counsel for the Association of Oregon Counties, told commissioners they should consider rolling out grower, processor and retailer licenses over time so there’s enough supply in the system when stores open. Washington shops opened with major supply problems, a situation Oregon regulators want to avoid.

He also urged the commission to craft rules that keep small-scale growers in mind. He pointed to the liquor commission’s efforts to foster and promote Oregon distilleries.

“You can and should do the same to marijuana,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jeff Kuhns, deputy chief of the Keizer Police Department, urged the commission to draft “bright, clean and clear lines for law enforcement to interpret and enforce.”

He said the state already issues cards for medical marijuana patients, caregivers and growers, and will next year issue licenses for growers, wholesalers, processors and retailers. The number of cards issued by the state is bound to lead to confusion about how much marijuana a person is legally allowed to possess.

“Just imagine how confused a police officer will be on a traffic stop when he encounters (marijuana) seeds, mature plants, immature plants, usable marijuana, edibles, liquids and extracts,” he said, adding that the person could have more than one state-issued card or license to possess cannabis.

“How is a police officer going to figure out if that person is or is not in violation of the law?” he asked.

— Noelle Crombie

[email protected]

503-276-7184; @noellecrombie

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