Happy Legalization Day, Oregon!
At the stroke of midnight, July 1, 2015, marijuana officially becomes legal in my home state of Oregon. Medical marijuana has been legal since December 3, 1998, and marijuana was first decriminalized here back in 1973. But on that incredible summer night, for the first time there will be no arrest, no ticket, no fine, no punishment of any kind for any adult who possesses and cultivates marijuana!
As long as it’s not too much. And as long as your landlord’s okay with you growing it. And as long as he or she doesn’t use it where people can see. And as long as it’s not solvent-concentrated. And as long as you’re an old-enough adult. We’ve only taken another baby step toward freedom; we’re not there yet.
Let’s talk specifics. After July 1, if you’re above the age of 21, marijuana becomes legal for you. That leaves out a large group of adults whom we trust to pick a president, sign a contract, smoke a cigarette, and fight our wars; those aged 18-20 years old. They also happen to be the demographic that consumes the most cannabis products the most often; about one-in-five consume monthly and one-in-three consume annually.
The over-21 adults will be free from punishment for public possession of one ounce of usable marijuana. At home, they may cultivate four cannabis plants of any size per household and possess eight ounces of usable marijuana (we better keep those plants small, I guess). Landlords may, however, forbid cannabis cultivation on their properties and public consumption will still earn you a ticket. Adults may also possess 16 ounces (a pound) of cannabinoid-infused edible products and 72 ounces (4½ pints) of cannabinoid-infused liquids. Adults are also allowed to possess an ounce of marijuana extracts, defined by law as concentrates made with solvents “such as butane, hexane, isopropyl alcohol, ethanol, and carbon dioxide.”
Oregon’s marijuana legalization also included improved marijuana decriminalization and depenalization for greater amounts. An adult can possess more than the legal amounts, but so long as it’s less than twice those amounts, it will only be a Class B violation. In other words, up to a pound of usable marijuana at home or up to two ounces in public or up to two pounds of edibles or up to a gallon and a pint of tinctures or up to two ounces of extracts would get you just a ticket and a fine. If it’s less than four times the legal amounts, the charge will be a Class B misdemeanor. You would have to have two pounds of marijuana at home or a quarter pound in public or four pounds of edibles or two gallons and a quart of tinctures or a quarter pound of extracts before you’d face a Class C felony.
Extracts, however, may not actually be legal to possess, at first. On July 1, according to the law, “no person may produce, process, keep, or store homemade marijuana extracts.” The crime of possessing any amount of homemade extracts is a Class B misdemeanor, and if it’s over a quarter ounce, it’s a Class C felony. (Remember, we’re talking about solvent extractions; this wouldn’t apply to ice water hash, finger hash, kief, or vegetable glycerin extracts.) But licensing of the processors to manufacture legal solvent extracts won’t happen until after January 1, 2016 and most observers predict we won’t see a legal marijuana store until August or September of 2016. That means there will be no such thing as non-homemade (legal) marijuana extracts for over a year.
Or maybe not. One Republican senator in Oregon has noted that “One of the problems we have is that on July 1, Oregonians will be able to possess, grow and gift marijuana… but they won’t be able to legally buy it.” He has proposed that the existing medical marijuana dispensaries be allowed to sell marijuana products to all adults beginning on July 1. The political prospects for the idea are dim, however, because it is far too logical and begs the question, why would anyone involved want to change the arrangement once licensing begins in 2016?
The prospects for marijuana businesses look good. Measure 91 established four licenses – producer, processor, wholesaler, and retailer – with minimal fees of $250 to apply and $1,000 for the annual license. The legislature is considering instituting other types of licenses, such as testing and sub-types of processors, such as cooking or extracting. No artificial limits have been placed on the number of licenses available. Marijuana licenses can only be banned in a city or county through the vote of the people. Marijuana taxation is set by the state at the producer level at just $35 per ounce of flower, $10 per ounce of trim, and $5 per seedling, and no city or county may establish a local marijuana tax. A portion of the marijuana tax revenue is returned to the cities and counties in proportion to their number of marijuana licensees. Measure 91 is by far the most business-friendly marijuana legalization in America.
Or maybe not. Lobbyists for the cities and counties are fighting tooth and nail to establish their rights to ban marijuana licenses through a handful of votes on their councils and commissions, rather than the hundreds or thousands of peoples’ votes Measure 91 requires. Dozens of Oregon cities passed their own local marijuana taxes, as high as 40%, even though Measure 91 explicitly repealed them upon passage, and now the lobbyists want the local marijuana taxes grandfathered-in.
As of press time, there is still a month to go in the Oregon legislative session; how taxation and licensing and local control will work out by July 1 is anybody’s guess. Oregon lacks protection for statutory initiatives, so the legislature can (and probably will) change major portions of our legalization. But one thing’s for certain: after July 1, adults over 21 will no longer be punished for growing and consuming personal cannabis amounts on their own Oregon property.