Earlier this year, Ted Ferreoli, a state senator representing a huge swath of rural eastern Oregon, shook up a meeting of the Joint Committee on Implementing Measure 91 by suggesting that existing medical marijuana dispensaries be allowed to sell recreational marijuana following legalization that went into effect July 1, 2015. Initially, the idea seemed unlikely to come to fruition. The mainstream media quoted Ferreoli’s fellow legislators saying that such a program was fraught with problems, not the least of which would be interference with the efforts of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to roll out a recreational system with seed-to-sale tracking.
Many commentators, including yours truly, dismissed Ferreoli’s proposal as political theater, an attempt, perhaps, to goad the OLCC into bringing recreational marijuana online faster. Now, the doubters have been silenced as Oregon stands ready to bring recreational marijuana to market faster than any previous states. Beginning in October, assuming Gov. Kate Brown signs Senate Bill 460, Oregon’s roughly 270 existing medical marijuana dispensaries will be able to sell marijuana to adults 21 and over.
The OLCC is reportedly displeased with this development. As the agency charged with implementing Measure 91, the OLCC has dictated the timeline for legalization. The only statutory deadline in place is that the agency must begin accepting applications by Jan. 4, 2016; there isn’t a similar statutory deadline for awarding licenses. The OLCC has maintained that it would not allow marijuana retailers to open until the second half of 2016.
The agency essentially blew off Sen. Ferreoli when he first suggested these “early” recreational sales through medical dispensaries. The agency held fast to its own timeline, which called for marijuana to be legal in Oregon for more than a year without any way for consumers to purchase it legally in-state.
To explain its delay, the OLCC has often hid behind the Cole Memo. To thwart the black market, one of the major Cole Memo priorities, the OLCC says it must take time to build a robust seed-to-sale tracking system. However, the imperative to thwart the black market cuts both ways. The OLCC’s longer-term stance left an opening for the Legislature to do an end-around, simply by passing another law — not part of Measure 91, and not subject to OLCC jurisdiction — allowing early sales through the medical dispensaries.
Sen. Ferrioli’s idea went from what looked like a political stunt to acceptance by the Legislature in a few short months. More and more of his fellow legislators supported the idea that early dispensary sales were the best way to thwart the black market, particularly compared to the delays envisioned by the OLCC.
Unfortunately, the Legislature’s otherwise commendable effort to authorize early sales falls woefully short in its scope. SB 460 limits sales to dried flower, seeds and immature plants. Legal-age consumers will be limited to purchasing a quarter-ounce of dried flower each day. No extracts or edibles will be available to customers without a medical marijuana card, even though they would be legal to possess if acquired from another source.
At a public hearing about the bill, one exchange in particular underscored the illogically limited scope of the law. Sen. Floyd Prozanski, consistently one of the industry’s biggest supporters, aggressively questioned a representative of the Oregon Retailers of Cannabis Association, who had been testifying about why it made sense to make edibles and concentrates already stocked by the dispensaries available to all adults instead of just medical cardholders.
“Isn’t it true,” Prozanski asked, “that extracts can have up to 90% THC, or three times as much as the most potent flower?”
“Isn’t it true,” he asked, “that there are no true lab testing or food safety standards in place in the medical arena compared to what will be in place in the recreational arena?”
“Isn’t is true,” he asked, “that individuals can make their own concentrates and edibles at home with the marijuana they buy at the dispensaries?”
Sen. Prozanski clearly was on a mission to make it seem dangerous for dispensaries to sell concentrates and edibles, even though the same dispensaries sell the same products to cardholders. He suggested it would be dangerous because the extracts (and the edibles made with them) can be very potent and because the testing and quality control in place now probably pales in comparison to the regulations that eventually will be in place.
To suggest it is preferable for adults to purchase dried flower and make their own extracts and concentrates at home rather than buying those products at a state-licensed dispensary with proper testing and packaging requirements is, to be blunt, insane.
It will not be legal for a commercial extracts processor to operate in a solely residential area once licenses are granted, yet the Legislature wants to encourage people to make extracts at home? That sounds like a recipe for a lot of additional calls to the fire department. And the Legislature would rather people make their own edibles without testing or labeling and then share them with friends? That sounds like a recipe for a lot of additional emergency room visits.
The rollout of early recreational sales through medical dispensaries will be good for consumers, good for the industry and good for the state’s efforts to observe the priorities of the Cole Memo. It nevertheless is disappointing that the Legislature stopped short of authorizing sales of more than a very limited range of products, and, in the process, potentially put the health, safety and property of the public at risk.