How Oregon Is Beating Washington, Colorado, & Alaska Legalization
October 1 was a great day to be an Oregonian! That was the day all adults were able to visit participating medical marijuana dispensaries and legally purchase a personal amount of marijuana.
I was covering the historic event at the grand opening of Cannacea, a dispensary at NE 107th & Halsey. It’s a former M-Bank location, complete with the massive vault now storing a different kind of green. Most of the 300 or so people in line were native Oregonians, but I met people from Texas, Utah, and even Vermont who were here to buy pot legally.
But I have to observe that the impact of the day was not felt as greatly as it was when it happened in Denver and Seattle not too long ago. I was there at Cannabis City in Seattle last July for their ribbon cutting. The place was packed with news media and the crowd spilled out into the boulevard and blocked a whole lane of traffic.
I wasn’t in Denver for their first legal sales, but news media reported on a massive lines and huge turnout as they covered the story of the first purchaser, a veteran who could finally legally purchase marijuana to treat his PTSD, as Colorado stubbornly refuses to expand their medical marijuana program to recognize treatment for the severe mental health condition.
It’s not that the impact in Portland was any less meaningful. The people at the events shared the same feelings of joy at being out of the cannabis closet and treated as a customer, not a criminal. The news media were out in force gathering footage and interviews. The difference was that Oregon’s first legal sales event was dispersed among a far greater set of locations.
When Washington experienced their first legal sales day, there were four outlets statewide. In Colorado, there were twenty dispensaries that were ready to devote segregated space to recreational sales. But in Oregon, there are 249 medical marijuana dispensaries listed on the state’s health authority website as participating in retail sales. There are 179 retail marijuana licensees today in Washington State and 385 in Colorado. Portland alone has 104 dispensaries, with another 14 in the surrounding suburbs, compared to just 22 retail shops in Seattle and 156 in Denver.
So in terms of access, Oregon is crushing Washington right out of the gate, and competing with Colorado, which has the advantage of a year-and-a-half head start and a far more regulated medical marijuana system upon which to build a recreational marijuana system. And Alaska hasn’t even begun to have medical marijuana sales, much less recreational ones.
But Oregon is crushing its green state competitors in other ways. Our initiative had the greatest support at the polls at 56 percent. Our marijuana is being sold tax-free for the remainder of 2015, and even the 25 percent temporary tax and eventual 17 percent plus up to 3 percent local tax will still be lower than Washington’s 37 percent and Colorado’s 10 percent plus 15 percent plus sales taxes. Our licensing will permit most people with no drug felony in the past two years to apply for any kind of license, unlike Washington’s artificially capped limits on license numbers and Colorado’s more stringent restrictions of five years with no drug felony.
Speaking of felonies, Oregon is the only one of the four legal states in which there exists no felony possession amount. Forty grams in Washington, four ounces in Alaska, and twelve ounces in Colorado will get you felony charges, but the greatest charge for any amount of marijuana possession in Oregon is a class A misdemeanor.
And Oregon may remain the nation’s legalization leader in the years to come. Ohio’s proposal for 2015 would be more restrictive, as would Nevada’s for 2016; both have secured a spot on the ballot. There are more liberal proposals from grassroots activists in California, Arizona, Massachusetts, Maine, and Michigan, but all face competition from well-funded nationally-backed proposals that approach but don’t exceed Oregon’s statutes.
Oregon has their legislature to thank for some of our superior legalization. They killed all the class C possession felonies; redefined extracts in such a way that we can now legally possess a pound of bubble hash, rosin press hash, alcohol extractions; and gave us these tax-free early sales in medical marijuana dispensaries. They passed laws enabling those formerly convicted of marijuana crimes to appeal for record sealing and expungement, even sentence reduction and eventual release, based on today’s penalties (or lack thereof) for yesteryear’s crimes.
And we haven’t even begun to consider the superior tourism, food, beer, wine, art, music, and lifestyle Oregon has to offer the cannabis consumer. It truly is living in a stoner’s paradise; I’m so happy to call Oregon home.