Oregon aims to tax legal marijuana less than other states – USA TODAY


Carol McAlice Currie, Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon
1:24 a.m. EDT July 1, 2015

SALEM, Ore.—Lawmakers moved methodically to ensure that when Oregonians take a drag on their first legal recreational-marijuana cigarettes or plant their first legal seeds Wednesday, that they have the full weight and force of the state behind them.

One bill sent to the governor aims to tax marijuana less than two of the three other Western states where recreational use is legal, a bid to keep smaller producers in the legal-growing system.

On the eve of recreational marijuana’s legalization in Oregon, the state senate passed two bills and referred two others to the House that will help the state and its residents comply with the law created by the passage of Measure 91 last November. Lawmakers and industry observers expect the two referrals to pass before the Legislature adjourns for the year this week or next.

The first bill sent to Gov. Kate Brown’s desk for signature on Tuesday was House Bill 3400, which, if signed, will create an overall framework for the legalization of recreational marijuana, said Geoff Sugerman, a representative for the Oregon Cannabis Political Action Committee.

Some of the provisions contained in HB 3400 include changes to the agency certifying labs for both recreational and medical marijuana, new descriptors for what the labs are testing for, and recommendations for information to be printed on consumer packaging.

“It also lets the Oregon Liquor Control Commission set production size limits on recreational producers,” Sugerman said. “This bill sets an overall framework for recreational marijuana, and among other things, ensures that excess medical marijuana doesn’t wind up on the black market.”

TAX-FREE TILL JANUARY

The second bill sent to Gov. Brown’s desk is House Bill 2041. This bill identifies a tax structure for recreational marijuana that would begin next year. Sales would be tax free until Jan. 4, 2016. Then, Sugerman said, the statewide tax would move from producers to retailers, and would be 17% statewide with local governments (city or county) having the option to add up to 3% more, for a 20% tax.

Sugerman said this is significantly less than the taxes applied in Washington state and Colorado, two of the other three states where recreational marijuana use is legal. (Alaska is the third.)

“This tries to bring small and large producers into the industry, and keeps with the idea of making small producers part of the legal movement,” Sugerman said.

The other two pieces of legislation, Senate Joint Measure 12 and Senate Bill 460, now move to the House for consideration. SJM 12 is a recommendation to the federal government to reschedule marijuana, or take it off the Schedule I list.

This has been a case, Sugerman said, of the federal government saying retailers have to pay taxes on the sale of what it considers illegal drugs, but not allowing these same retailers to take the normal business deductions associated with their business. It would also allow banks previously unwilling to open accounts for commercial marijuana producers and processors who want to deposit money a way to allow such activity.

“This measure would ease those federal-government concerns,” Sugerman said.

Probably the most important bill in the bunch is SB 460, which was approved 23-6 in the Senate. This bill would make it legal for recreational marijuana users 21 and older to buy their product from licensed medical marijuana dispensaries beginning Oct. 1. This would give consumers in the state a legal sales venue until Oregon has its system for recreational marijuana retailers up and running next year.

Lawmakers believe the early start to legalized retail sales will help shift consumers away from the black market and into legalized ones. It is limited to marijuana, seeds and immature (plant) starts only, Sugerman said. No edibles or concentrates would be allowed. It’s a way to track and report recreational marijuana as soon as possible, he added.

” … I believe the Legislature has done a remarkable job of balancing the interests of recreational users with protections for medical users and respect for local control,” said Sen. Ted Ferrioli, (R-John Day). “Not everyone will agree, but I believe the package of bills for implementing recreational use is some of our best work.”

The bill’s target date of October this year is a departure from previous estimates that indicated recreational users would not be able to buy legally until fall 2016.

The disconnect had many would-be users and those connected with the industry scratching their heads and wondering where someone who wanted to buy it legally was supposed to get it prior to next fall. One solution proffered was that someone could legally gift a plant, seeds of small amount to a friend or family member; they just couldn’t sell it.

Sen. Ginny Burdick (D-Portland) said the package of bills protects the rights of medical marijuana patients, helps reduce illegal black-market sales, ensures that recreational users can legally obtain the product and gives local governments regulatory and revenue options.

“I think for a few days, it’s going to look a little like Haight-Ashbury (synonymous with the 1960s hippie culture), and then we’ll get back to normal and to the business of making this industry work right.”

ccurrie@statesmanjournal.com; (503) 399-6746 or follow on Twitter at @CATMCurrie

The legalities:

Effective July 1, in Oregon you may:

  • Possess and use recreational marijuana if you are 21 and older.
  • Use recreational marijuana at home or on private property.
  • Possess up to eight ounces of useable marijuana in your home and up to one ounce outside the home.
  • Grow up to four plants per residence (not per resident), out of public view.
  • Share or give away recreational marijuana. It can’t be sold or bought until licensed retail shops open (depending on bill’s passage).
  • Make edible products at home or receive them as gifts, but they can only be used in private.

However, under the law you still may not:

  • Possess and use recreational marijuana if you are under 21.
  • Use recreational marijuana in public.
  • Buy or sell recreational marijuana or marijuana products.
  • Drive under the influence of marijuana. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission asks users to be responsible.
  • Take marijuana in or out of the state. This includes neighboring Washington state.

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