Medical marijuana growers may see new limits as Oregon legislators move to … – OregonLive.com
Oregon legislators are moving to put new limits on the large and mostly unregulated pot growers who ostensibly serve medical marijuana patients.
Key lawmakers want to shift the large growers to the tightly regulated recreational marijuana market the state plans to develop after voters last year decided to legalize the drug.
“We have to show we’re doing everything we can to close off the black market,” said Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland. “It’s no secret that medical marijuana [from Oegon] is appearing all over the U.S. in the illegal market.”
Rob Patridge, chairman of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which is charged with regulating recreational marijuana sales, estimated that as much as 75 percent of the medical marijuana in the state winds up going to the black market.
He said he hoped the growing legislative consensus on how to regulate growers will produce “a model system for the U.S.” showing how to dramatically shrink illegal sales.
Lobbyists and representatives for growers acknowledge that people who grow medical marijuana are going to have face additional regulation. “It definitely appears the Legislature is going to do something in that area,” said Geoff Sugerman, a lobbyist for the Oregon Cannabis PAC, which represents growers, processors and retailers.
Burdick, who co-chairs a committee charged with implementing the marijuana initiative, is working on legislation that would limit medical marijuana growers to 24 plants.
Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, long a strong supporter of legalized marijuana, is working on his own proposal that would allow up to 48 plants.
Both say they want to protect smaller growers who want to stick solely with medical marijuana an opportunity to continue on without facing expensive regulations. Unlike currently, they would have to report how much they are growing and where they were sending it, but they wouldn’t face stricter OLCC regulations.
Buckley said he supported the higher limit “because I want to be very cautious with any change to the medical marijuana market,” which he said now provides a strong link between many patients and growers.
Rep. Ann Lininger, D-Lake Oswego, who co-chairs the Measure 91 committee with Burdick, said she also wants to provide an opportunity for smaller, less well-financed growers to work within the law “so we don’t drive people outside the legal market altogether.”
Either the 24 or 48-plant limit would affect a large number of marijuana growers around the state, particularly in southern Oregon where pot farms are plentiful.
A recent analysis by The Oregonian/OregonLive of medical marijuana grower data finds that 282 sites in Oregon are serving at least 11 patients.
Growers are allowed to grow up to six plants per patient and many have gathered enough patient cards to be able to cultivate hundreds of plants. Yields vary but an outdoor plant can produce between three and five pounds.
Both the Burdick and Buckley approaches would eliminate the practice of “card-stacking,” in which growers establish relationships with a large number of patients, giving them legal cover for extensive pot farms.
They say they also want to prohibit out-of-state residents from getting medical marijuana cards in Oregon or growing pot in the state.
The Oregonian/OregonLive analysis found that Oregon’s largest pot farm – in the Josephine County community of Selma – exclusively grows for 104 medical marijuana patients in California.
“That is a practice we have to stop,” said Buckley, citing that as a potential source of black-market diversions.
Burdick said she’s not trying to put large growers out of business. Instead, she said, they can move into the legal recreational market by submitting to licensing and tracking of their product by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Patridge said he expects retail sales to begin sometime late in 2016.
“I expect many of these larger growers are going to get into the recreational market, which is where they belong,” said Burdick. She also noted that smaller growers who exclusively serve medical marijuana patients would also face new reporting requirements.
The liquor control commission helped spur legislators by making it clear that it wouldn’t allow medical marijuana dispensaries to sell pot for recreational use unless they get all of their supplies from regulated growers.
Groups representing growers say they’re now focused on just how new regulations would work.
“The devil in the details,” said Cedar Grey, president of SunGrown Growers Guild, which has more than 60 members and a lobbyist in Salem. He said many members of his group are navigating toward Buckley’s higher limit on plants.
Sugerman, of the Oregon Cannabis PAC, said his members are primarily interested in joining the recreational market.
“Our growers want to be licensed, they want to be inspected and tracked,” Sugerman said. “They want to be legal.”
Sugerman said his group wants to see medical and recreational sales at the same locations, with both supplied by the same growers.
To do that, Burdick and others said it would probably be necessary to change the method of taxation contained in Measure 91, the initiative approved by voters.
Measure 91 calls for a $35 tax on the most potent parts of the plant, $10 for leaves and $5 for plant starts.
Burdick wants to shift that to a “point-of-sale” tax at the retail level based on the weight or potency of the drug. That way, it would be easy to continue the tax exemption for medical marijuana buyers.
In addition, Burdick said this would be an easier system to enforce, instead of relying on growers to determine which parts of their plants should face a higher tax rate.