The passage of Measure 91 in November legalized recreational marijuana in Oregon and began a process of study and negotiation in Salem. Since the start of the session, lawmakers have worked to determine the specifics of how the measure will play out, day to day, as the state moves forward. Activity began immediately; on the first day of session, at least 15 bills were filed that would alter or amend Measure 91.
“The state still needs to implement the specific details around many issues,” says Anthony Johnson, co-author of Measure 91 and Executive Director of the Oregon Cannabis Industry Association (www.newapproachoregon.com.) He includes licensing requirements for marijuana businesses and the regulations around testing, processing, cultivation, dispensing, dosage, packaging and marketing. “Good cannabis legislation would stick to the will of the voters, and the basics that need implementing.”
In January, the Joint Committee on Implementing Measure 91 was established. Composed of democrats and republicans, House and Senate members and led by Sen. Ginny Burdick (D – Portland) and Rep. Ann Lininger (D – Lake Oswego,) it held twice-weekly hearings throughout February, inviting testimony from law enforcement, medical professionals, health professionals, cannabis trade associations, environmentalists, testing laboratories and bankers.
Growers and dispensary owners from around the state attended nearly every session – another frequent presence was Tom Burns, who since 2013 has overseen the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) implementation of Oregon’s medical marijuana dispensary system. Burns, was made the director of Oregon’s marijuana program after the passage of Measure 91.
As March begins, lawmakers have more than two-dozen marijuana bills to consider. The potential laws range from barring cannabis sales within a mile of schools to figuring ways for banks and credit unions to do business with growers, laboratories and dispensaries without being charged with money laundering under the RICO Act; (cannabis is still illegal under federal law).
“What our legislators are looking at,” says Peter Gendron, a grower from southern Oregon, “is avoiding the mistakes of Colorado and Washington. I and others are committed to moving the industry forward and making sure the industry is well-regulated and operating in a socially responsible manner”. “These are smart, thoughtful people on this committee,” says attendee Ed Burgmans, who runs A.M.C., a cannabis consulting business. “They ask all the right questions. They ask excellent questions.”
Let this serve as a brief introduction to some of the 11 Senate bills and 14 House bills now in play.
Generally APPROVED by
Senate Bill 445
Asks for a warning against marijuana use by pregnant women.
“While there is no definitive science showing marijuana use to be a danger to a developing fetus, and in fact, some science showing benefits,” says Portland NORML’s Executive Director Russ Belville, “we should be extra cautious when it comes to pregnant mother’s use of any drug – from alcohol to Zoloft.”
Senate Bills 479 and 480
These bills would create a somewhat independent state agency to study the use and effectiveness of medical marijuana. “These bills should have been passed a decade ago,” Belville comments, “but better late than never.” Oregon Cannabis Connection, a statewide publication focused on the cannabis industry, calls both 479 and 480 “a very good law!”
House Bill 2676
This law directs the OLCC to register medical marijuana production sites, processing sites, wholesale sites and people who handle marijuana. All involved in the industry hope for responsible regulation that will not needlessly penalized this legal business. If developed properly, HB2676 may be the answer.
“Although this omnibus bill has been gutted,” says Donald Morse, Director of the Oregon Cannabis Business Council, “we’re going to help the committee put back relevant parts. We have a hope that in upcoming months we can put back in elements that were written out.”
Generally OPPOSED by
House Bills 2040 and 2041, Senate Bills 124, 162 and 540
All seek to restrict the location of dispensaries in relation to school zones or childcare facilities. The Senate bills ask for a distance of 1,000 feet; the House bills require a distance of a mile.
Measure 91 makes no mention of school exclusionary zones, and cannabis advocates urge rejection of all laws that impose them. Belville says, “Take a look around Portland and find your nearest school. Now, count up how many locations within 1,000 feet of it where an adult can buy alcohol or cigarettes. Why should the standard be any different for marijuana?”
The one-mile laws are even more egregious, Gendron says. “You’ve got so many small towns in Oregon”. “You couldn’t have any cannabis business in the whole place with a one-mile rule. That’s not what voters asked for.”
Morse doesn’t think a 1-mile law will see the light of day, calling them “so over the top that they effectively create a moratorium in some of our smaller towns.”
House Bill 2781
This bill, which would effectively prohibit any child care facility from employing or using the services of anyone who possesses a medical marijuana card, is rejected as unfair by cannabis advocates who point out that there is no law preventing day-care workers from using cigarettes, alcohol or prescription medications on their own time.
Senate Bill 542
This bill would repeal sections of Measure 91 that say how local governments can regulate all aspects of marijuana production and sales and is deemed “very, very bad law,” by Oregon Cannabis Connection.
“The most appropriate legislation,” says Johnson, “would be bills designed to protect consumers by ensuring proper packaging, dosage and labeling of marijuana products as well as bills necessary to give the OLCC the tools needed to best keep marijuana out of the hands of minors.” He calls Senate Bill 542 “the most damaging bill” under consideration, saying it would encourage illegal sales, “completely undermining the most important priority of Measure 91 and the 56% of voters who want to curtail the underground, illicit market. Senate Bill 542 would allow for localities to enact exorbitant local taxes and prohibit state-licensed marijuana businesses with a simply majority vote of a county commission or city council, providing opportunities for illegal dealers to try and undercut the state-licensed businesses.”
Most members of the cannabis industry encourage the legislature to implement the will of the voters regulating marijuana sensibly. They say marijuana laws are as important as laws for microbrews and wineries, cigarettes and medications. But for them, the protection of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program is essential, as is upholding the will of the voters in November.
“What the Oregon legislature is doing right now is going to guide national policy in 2020,” Gendron says. “A rescheduling of cannabis [making use legal nationally by removing it from the federal list of Schedule 1 substances] is going to happen in the next few years. And when that day comes, policies across the nation will be based on what happens in Salem, Oregon, right now.”