On Thursday, October 1, Oregon joined the ranks of those rare, but increasingly prevalent states that sell cannabis through dispensaries and retail outlets to citizens who are 21 and older. When Oregon passed Measure 91 in 2014, which legalized recreational cannabis possession and consumption for fans of the culture in the Beaver State, all stakeholders knew it would probably be 2016 before adults were actually able to legally walk into a safe, regulated retail outlet without a medical exemption and purchase cannabis.
The state surprised everyone when, over the summer, it announced that it would make recreational cannabis sales legal through existing dispensaries to expedite the rollout of the recreational market and get a leg up on illegal dealers eager to supply a newly motivated and hungry population of consumers. Said Portland resident John Finley:
“Before, I had to go through potentially dangerous, weird people in motels, for instance. Or just people I didn’t want to deal with or don’t trust. It was legal, but I didn’t have any options.”
A Short History
In 1998, Oregon became the second state in the nation to pass a medical marijuana law that permitted and regulated the cultivation, processing, and dispensation of medical cannabis to patients with a wide range of ailments.
Roughly 200 of Oregon’s 345 medical dispensaries have registered with the state to expand their customer base to recreational consumers. On June 30, Oregon passed HB 3400, a law to regulate recreational sales, including a detailed seed-to-sale tracking system and the progressive expungement of thousands of non-violent cannabis offenses.
Senate Bill 460, which Oregon governor Kate Brown signed during the summer, allowed recreational sales via dispensaries beginning on October 1 as a means of kickstarting the state’s recreational legalization while the Oregon Liquor Control Commission crafts regulatory language that will set the rules for all recreational marijuana sales in the state. Recreational sales will be tax-free until January 4, 2016, when a 25 percent tax will go into effect.
On July 1, Oregon’s recreational law went into effect, making it legal for millions of Oregonians to possess up to eight ounces of the herb, grow small amounts at home (four plants, if kept out of public view), and take up to an ounce outside their residence. But with only a network of medical dispensaries and no existing recreational retail outlets, cannabis consumers in the state have been trapped in a Catch 22, with no convenient and safe access to the herb that has finally been legalized.
By allowing medical dispensaries to also sell cannabis to recreational users, the state hopes to establish an advantage over the black market and cartels, pushing organized crime out of communities and generating much needed tax revenue. Unfortunately, the state will not even begin accepting applications from entrepreneurs and businesses for retail licenses allowing cultivation, processing, testing, and retail sales of cannabis and cannabis products until January 4, 2016. Recreational retail outlets are expected to begin opening later in 2016, most likely the third and fourth quarter.
Oregon joins Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and the District of Columbia to offer adults 21 and older the legal right to purchase, possess, and consume cannabis for non-medical purposes. Ironically, while California was the first state to establish a legal and semi-regulated environment for medical cannabis in 1996 with Proposition 215, technically speaking, recreational sales are still illegal in the state (a recreational ballot issue scheduled for 2016 is expected to pass). Like Oregon until now, Alaska, which has legalized possession and consumption for all adults, also has not begun legal sales of cannabis to recreational consumers.
While pot sales between individuals remains illegal, gifting and sharing herb is permitted in Oregon. The new recreational law allows citizens to purchase “flower and dry leaf products, plants, and seeds,” according to Oregon.gov. Note the distinct exception of concentrates and edibles. Unfortunately, residents of Oregon who choose to take advantage of the state’s new recreational legalization will be limited to only seven grams (a quarter ounce) of flowers (buds) and related products (the same daily amount that Colorado allows tourists to purchase, while residents can purchase an ounce per visit).
This restriction will be teasingly painful due to the fact that recreational consumers can currently legally shop only in certain medical dispensaries, most of which also sell edibles and concentrates to patients. While displayed direction in front of customers, dispensaries won’t be permitted to sell such prominently promoted products to recreational shoppers. Oregon’s recreational smokers and vapers simply won’t have legal, safe access to concentrates such as Butane Hash Oil (BHO) and its myriad variants (like wax, shatter, and crumble), tinctures, CO2 oil, and live resin.
For those thinking of purchasing and consuming recreational cannabis in Oregon who aren’t tapped into the details of what’s permitted, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission has published an infographic that may help. Those sad about a lack of legal access to edibles and concentrates can print out a copy and use it to blow their nose and wipe their tears of frustration.
Where Things Stand
Oregon has set a new record in the sparsely crowded field of states that allow recreational cannabis sales. It sold $11 million worth of non-medical weed after one week of sales. Compare this to what other recreationally legal states sold during their first week of legality:
- Colorado: $5 million
- Washington: <$1 million
- Alaska: $0 (rec sales have not yet begun)