Legislation regulating recreational marijuana could be among the first bills to come up in the 2015 session of the Oregon Legislature, as lawmakers work out details of the state’s new legal pot system.
When voters approved legal recreational pot on Nov. 4, they also signed off on a new regulatory, licensing and tax system overseen by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. The state agency plans to start writing those rules in early 2015, but lawmakers and representatives of cities and counties said Measure 91 created some issues that can only be addressed in the Legislature.
There also some parts of the measure that lawmakers simply want to change. These range from the date when adults will be able to legally possess recreational cannabis, to the timeline for voters to ban recreational pot businesses at the city and county level.
It’s important for lawmakers to bring up any legislation related to recreational pot early in the session, so Oregon Liquor Control Commission officials can include it when they write regulations.
“Some legislators have expressed interest in some tweaks (to Measure 91),” said Rob Patridge, Klamath County District Attorney and chairman of the OLCC Board of Commissioners. “That makes it difficult for us to move forward with our rule making processes, if they make substantial changes to (Measure 91).”
Nonetheless, Patridge said the OLCC will work diligently to meet the timeline that voters approved in Measure 91.
Anthony Johnson, chief petitioner and co-author of Measure 91, said that although “it’s understandable that legislators, cities and counties will seek some clarification during the legislative session,” it is also important for them to stick to the intent of voters who approved the measure.
State Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, said he is interested in moving up the date when adults age 21 and older can possess marijuana.
Under Measure 91, people can legally possess cannabis for recreational use starting July 1, 2015, although some law enforcement officials are already reconsidering possession cases. The Multnomah County District Attorney’s office announced on Monday it would dismiss pending cases that involved violation-level amounts of marijuana.
Prozanski said many people incorrectly believe that marijuana will become legal sooner than July. He would also like lawmakers to consider legislation to allow people convicted of marijuana possession prior to the passage of Measure 91 to have their records expunged.
Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, said much of the work by lawmakers and state employees to regulate Oregon’s medical marijuana program will carry over to recreational pot regulations. Buckley has been working with the cannabis industry on legislation that would give the Oregon Health Authority the ability to regulate medical marijuana growers and testing labs, and that could provide a template for OLCC regulations in 2015.
Measure 91 provided broad regulatory authority to the OLCC, so the agency already has the ability to regulate labs and growers. Buckley said he is also looking at opportunities to tighten the medical program, to prevent recreational pot consumers from using it to avoid taxes.
“Of the issues that relate to both medical marijuana and recreational, the Legislature is going to try to take a very early approach to vet those out, and then hand over early to OLCC in their rule making process what we’ve been able to figure out and they will take it from there.” Buckley said.
It’s also possible lawmakers will attempt to address concerns from the public about keeping edible marijuana products such as cookies and gummy bears out of the hands of children. Buckley had already received calls from other lawmakers who were concerned about the issue and interested in packaging requirements.
Prozanski is also interested in restrictions on the types of products for sale at recreational dispensaries.
“I think we need to have a discussion about what’s going to be available at a retail level for sale and consumption, as opposed to what’s available in the medical program,” Prozanski said. It might make sense to more strictly regulate the “shape and fashion” of edible marijuana products available for recreational use, so they do not appeal to children, as well as “some of the extremely high THC products,” Prozanski said.
In addition to constituent concerns, lawmakers can expect to hear from city and county officials who want more clarity on how to implement some parts of Measure 91 and change other sections.
Scott Winkels, a lobbyist for the League of Oregon Cities who works on marijuana issues, said cities will probably work with counties and groups that represent other local government officials such as sheriffs, to reach a consensus on issues they think the Legislature should address.
One concern for cities and counties is that under Measure 91, voters can approve bans on recreational marijuana at the city and county level through the citizen initiative process. However, they cannot do so until the November 2016 election and by then, many marijuana businesses will already be open. Winkels said cities could be liable if they shut down businesses at that point.
Rob Bovett, legal counsel for the Association of Oregon, said the group shares this concern.
“Essentially we have a year gap,” Bovett said. “I think the Legislature can clean that piece of it up, and probably ought to.”
Bovett said Oregon is uniquely positioned to create a well-regulated system for both medical and recreational pot, and to have low enough prices to undercut the black market.
“To get both of those things is going to require a lot of hard work on some legislation and a lot of rules to do it right,” Bovett said.