A sweeping bill that sets up the framework for Oregon’s upcoming legal marijuana market was handily passed by the state House on a 52-4 vote Wednesday.

The measure would put new limits on medical marijuana growers, make it easier for 15 eastern Oregon counties to prohibit retail sales of the drug and reduce penalties for many of the state’s remaining marijuana-related crimes.

In addition, House Bill 3400 lays out new testing and packaging requirements covering marijuana and other cannabis-infused products.

Those are some of a highlights of a 127-page bill that members of a House-Senate marijuana struggled for months to assemble after voters last year passed an initiative to legalize marijuana.  Possession becomes legal on July 1 but it could be more than a year until retail sales starts — unless the Legislature moves forward on a measure allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to temporarily sell small amounts of pot to recreational users.

HB 3400, which now goes to the Senate, attracted little opposition on the House floor.

Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, was the only one who expressed any concerns, saying he didn’t like the characterization that marijuana was just another farm product that should be treated the same as food crops.

“It is an illegal drug under federal law,” he noted, adding that he would “try to keep it away from my 7-year-old.”

In the end, though, Clem voted for the bill. The only no votes were cast by Democratic Reps. Brent Barton of Oregon City and Paul Evans of Salem and by Republican Reps. Cedric Hayden of Fall Creek and Julie Parrish of West Linn.

Rep. Ann Lininger, D-Lake Oswego, who co-chaired the marijuana committee, said the intent of the bill was to move marijuana into a “safer, taxed, regulated market and out of the black market.”

The new limits on medical marijuana farms are aimed at reducing diversions to the black market.

Meanwhile, supporters of easing penalties said it was time to shift away from meting out jail sentences to drug offenders.

“The so-called war on drugs has devastated communities across this country,” said Rep. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, noting that minority and poor people have been more likely to face prosecution despite similar rates of use as others.

Much of the committee debate over the bill revolved around how much power city and county governments should have to bar medical and recreational marijuana sales in their communities.

In a compromise, the bill would allow local boards in counties where at least 55 percent of voters opposed the legalization initiative to ban retail sales. Fifteen counties reached that threshold, all in eastern Oregon.

In other counties, any attempt to ban retail sales must be approved by voters.

In addition, the compromise allows localities to establish a tax of up to 3 percent on recreational marijuana sales.

To complicate issues, the marijuana committee is also considering a separate measure to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to temporarily sell small amounts of marijuana to recreational users.

This “early sales” program is aimed at giving consumers a legal way to buy marijuana between the time it becomes legal on July 1 and when recreational retail outlets open in late 2016. Those outlets will be licensed by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

–Jeff Mapes

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