Marijuana Legalization in Oregon: Great and Getting Better
On the evening of June 30 last year, I stood with a couple thousand Oregonians on Portland’s iconic Burnside Bridge awaiting the moment of our liberation from marijuana prohibition – July 1, 2015, at midnight.
Today I drive along that bridge and enjoy towering billboards advertising vapor pens and cannabis shops, with huge pictures of golden slabs of shatter and glistening purple buds.
We passed marijuana legalization with the greatest margin of victory of any of the four states to end prohibition. Since that victory, marijuana legalization has thrived in the Beaver State, thanks to numerous legislative improvements and an energized cannabusiness community.
I’m confident in stating that, as of now, Oregon has the best marijuana legalization in the world.
Oregon’s Measure 91 in 2014 was a significant improvement to the legalization initiatives that passed in Washington State and Colorado. Unlike our neighbor to the north, activists in Oregon steadfastly rejected the inclusion of any sort of THC-impairment standard for “stoned driving”. We also insisted on personal home grow rights.
Oregon’s legalization copied the best of what Colorado legalization had provided, like one ounce possession, personal home grows, and a regulated system of marijuana commerce. However, Colorado’s home grow allows for six cannabis plants while Oregon’s is limited to four, and Coloradoans may possess the entire result of their home harvest while Oregonians are limited to possessing just eight ounces at home.
Now Oregon’s law has become superior to Colorado’s and Washington’s in many ways. Washington State still maintains a felony charge for possession of marijuana over 40 grams and Colorado maintains a felony for over 12 ounces. In Oregon, Measure 91 was originally written so that possession of over 4 ounces in public or over 32 ounces at home would be a Class C felony.
Surprisingly, though, the Oregon’s legislature made the law even more liberal. Measure 91 had already decriminalized possession of up to twice the legal limits of one ounce of flower, one pound of edibles, 72 ounces of tinctures, one ounce of licensed extracts, and eight ounces of flower at home. It also made up to four times those amounts into Class B misdemeanors. But the over-four times the legal amounts that had been Class C felonies were downgraded by the legislature to Class A misdemeanors.
That’s right – there is no amount of marijuana buds, edibles, tinctures, or licensed extracts you can possess in Oregon and earn a felony charge. The only marijuana felonies that remain in Oregon are possession of over 7 grams of unlicensed (homemade) extracts, unlicensed cultivation of 8 or more plants, commercial importing or exporting, and adults over 21 delivering marijuana to kids under 18, which are Class C felonies, and manufacture or delivery within 1,000 feet of a school, the only remaining Class A felony.
We had also created in Measure 91 a definition of marijuana extracts and limited possession to an ounce while banning home extraction. But our legislature, concerned only with the explosive danger of extraction, defined extracts as only those methods that used hydrocarbons (butane, propane, hexane) or super-critical CO2. Now, not only can we produce ice water hash, alcohol and glycerin extracts, and rosin press at home, those are defined as “concentrates”, not “extracts”, and we can possess up to a pound of them.
Interestingly, a rural Republican who opposed legalization questioned why we’d legalize possession of marijuana on July 1, 2015, only to force cannabis consumers to wait until as late as September 2016 before the state begins licensing its adult cannabis shops.
He led the effort to pass an “early sales” bill that allowed the state’s existing medical marijuana dispensaries (made legal in 2013) to sell a limited amount of flower (7 grams) and cannabis seeds or seedlings to any adult customer with ID as of October 1, 2015. Thus, Oregon went from legal possession to legal sales in just three months, far surpassing Colorado (12 months) and Washington (18 months) in implementing adult sales.
The result has been a major price war along the Columbia River border between Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington. Vancouver shops, used to being some of the top sellers in Washington thanks to Oregon business, adjusted to the early sales in Oregon by dropping prices. I have recently seen prices as low as $45 per half-ounce in Vancouver, and that’s with Washington’s 37 percent taxes included. In response, I’ve seen advertised specials in Portland as low as $79 per ounce.
Now our legislature has just finished its second session since legalization passed and made even more improvements. The early sales program has been expanded to allow all adults to purchase edibles, tinctures, and extracts at our existing dispensaries. Residency requirements to invest in Oregon’s new commercial licenses have been eliminated. When commercial pot shops open in the fall, they will be allowed to sell products tax-free to medical marijuana patients.
Not all of Oregon’s marijuana developments have been positive. The medical marijuana program has been affected by the legislature reducing plant limits for medical producers. New gardens will be limited to 12 plants in residential areas and 48 in non-residential areas, hardly a devastating cut, and our existing dispensaries will continue to be licensed. The legislature even improved medical in some ways, such as no longer counting immature plants and lowering registry costs to $20 from $200 for veterans.
Most troubling was our legislature’s acquiescence to the rural pot-hating communities on the eastern side of the state. While Measure 91 required a public vote for any locality that wanted to ban pot licenses, the legislature ensured that the eastern cities and counties could institute bans simply by a vote of their city council or county commission. Since then, dozens of cities and counties have chosen bans, which have resulted in 92 percent of the state’s dispensaries being located west of the Cascade Mountains.
There’s still a lot to be improved, but all-in-all, Oregon is the place to be if you like legalized marijuana.