Oregon celebrates early opening of rec market
Third state to legalize cannabis begins sales in record time
Long lines, shoppers complaining about prices, an endless stream of bad puns from mainstream media and jovial, celebratory crowds … ah, the increasingly familiar sights and sounds of opening day for legal weed sales.
On Oct. 1, Oregon medical dispensaries were given the go-ahead to open their doors to all adult customers, ushering in a new era for one of the most cannabis-friendly states in the nation. Overall, the Beaver State’s historic day wasn’t much different than what pioneers Colorado and Washington went through in 2014. There was an atmosphere of celebration as patrons, advocates and store owners alike rejoiced over the changing marijuana laws. There was the same sense of participating in a momentous occasion that, just a few short years ago, many never expected to see in their lifetimes.
Oregon goes down in the history books as the third state to legalize recreational cannabis sales, but the path taken, thus far, has been far more progressive than its predecessors. Less than 11 months after voters approved Measure 91, the first purchases of legal marijuana in Oregon took place.
That’s three months faster than Colorado; 10 months faster than Washington. Oregon jumped into the game with a smoke first, fill in the details later approach.
Taxes? Seed-to-sale tracking? Fully-licensed supply chain? State inspectors? Expanded testing requirements?
Nope, not yet. Problems for another day.
But putting a legitimate end to prohibition? I’d say the Oregon Legislature deserves a lot of credit for willingly forgoing potential tax revenue in favor of allowing retail sales as soon as possible. To me, this is the best opportunity to make a dent in the black market. Legalizing possession, consumption and home growing only proliferates illegal sales if there’s no retail market to support its consumers.
The Legislature’s willingness to allow medical dispensaries to sell to recreational consumers shows a great deal of faith in the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, especially at a time when the eyes of the federal government are keeping close tabs on the entire West Coast.
It’s also an opportunity to circumvent two of the major flaws Colorado and Washington experienced. By limiting the most potent products — concentrates and edibles — to medical cardholders, Oregon shouldn’t have the PR nightmare Colorado did with several well-publicized cases of over-consumption.
While consumers and business owners will see this as heavy-handed over-regulation, I look at it as a temporary, cautious measure to mitigate bad press and ease Oregonians (and tourists) into this brave new world of legal marijuana.
Meanwhile, many of the knocks against Washington’s system have been centered around four main flaws: over-taxation, supply and demand quandaries, a painstakingly slow licensing process and unintended competition between the unregulated medical market and the strict recreational market.
Oregon opened its rec market with no taxes and uses its existing, semi-regulated supply chain to ensure plenty of product and retail outlets. The medical marijuana sector was turned into an asset, allowing the state to skip the mad rush of licensing (at least for now). I still envision the medical and recreational sectors will butt heads in the near future, but again, that’s a hurdle for another day.
We know the gears of government turn slowly, making it even more remarkable that Oregon was able to allow recreational sales so quickly.
We know the Feds and the prohibitionists are watching closely for any signs of a screw-up.
We also know the harms of marijuana have been vastly overstated for decades, and Oregon seems to have embraced the societal positive that can come from a regulated retail market for cannabis.
It’s not to say Oregon’s system is perfect, and only time will tell whether the state will have more or less growing pains than Washington and Colorado.
Taxes will be a shock to the system, particularly in a state that has always rejected the notion of sales taxes. Seed-to-sale tracking — if in fact implemented — will be lamented by every single business in the cannabis space. Questions remain about the viability of co-locating medical and recreational sales, and whether the current medical program can exist in conjunction with the rec program. Security, packaging and testing requirements all have the potential to inflate business owners’ expenses.
My advice, having watched businesses in Washington and Colorado go through a similar process, is to have patience. The path, in the long run, will be clunky and infuriating. Businesses that succeed will be well capitalized and well organized. They will be vigilant about following rules and developing positive business relationships — not just with customers, but with city and state officials, vendors and competitors as well.
Don’t underestimate the value of lawyers and accountants.
And perhaps most importantly, enjoy this temporary reprieve from the strict regulations that are sure to come.