International Cannabis Business Conference

Pot's Now Legal in Oregon - So What?

At 12:01 am on Wed. July 1, possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, in private, by people over the age of 21, became legal in the state of Oregon.

Where people are supposed to get that weed is another question, and one that no one wants to actually answer. Retail sales will begin eventually. The state Liquor Control Commission (LCC), which is in charge of retail sales, has been dragging its feet on implementing the law in order to give cities and counties time to enact bans. But we're supposed to keep quiet about that and just blame bureaucracy.

It's like with the racial justice argument for legalization. The new head of the Oregon ACLU, David Rogers, talked about that at a news conference on June 30. The problem is that racial disparities and racially-biased law enforcement won't go away when marijuana is legalized.

Research by Jon Gettman for the Drug Policy Alliance found that in Colorado, though the number of arrests after legalization decreased, the laws were still enforced in a racially-biased manner, with African­ Americans still more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than whites.

If it were left to the LCC, there would be no legal marijuana sales in Oregon until late 2016, maybe even 2017. Fortunately, the Oregon legislature is stepping in. A bill that's making its way through the legislature, SB460, will allow a “soft start” to legal retail sales. If it passes, medical dispensaries will be allowed to start selling to retail customers as of Oct. 1. The State Senate voted overwhelmingly to approve it, the House is likely to follow suit and the Gov. Kate Brown will probably sign it into law. 

If it sounds like I'm downplaying this incredible, paradigm­-shifting change, that's because I am.

Clackamas County, wher I live, enacted a moratorium on dispensaries when the state passed a law allowing medical dispensaries (the law back then didn't allow for complete bans). Oregon's medical marijuana law is being amended, however, to allow cities and counties to ban medical dispensaries. That's in a massive revision of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program that is being considered along with major revisions to the adult-use program, passed by voters last November.

In February, the Oregon legislature created a joint (as in House-­Senate) committee on implementing Measure 91. The committee members started the session by promising they were going to uphold the integrity of the medical marijuana program. Then they spent the next few months talking about how to change the medical marijuana program.

If it sounds like I'm downplaying this incredible, paradigm­-shifting change, that's because I am. There are people who gave up smoking years ago because they just couldn't afford to be caught with weed. Jobs and drug testing are big issues. But now weed is legal, and, well...no change there at all, really. A recent Colorado Supreme Court decision affirmed that employers have the right to fire someone if they test positive for marijuana use.

Of course, we're talking about Oregon, not Colorado. Unfortunately, the Oregon Supreme Court decided several years ago that an employer has the right to fire a legally registered medical marijuana patient for using marijuana, so I don't hold out much hope for recreational users.

I should be more excited about this. It's not a glass half-­full or half­-empty kind of thing. The metaphorical glass in this case hasn't been washed and the water it contains is murky, so who cares whether it's half full or half empty? Yes, people over age 21 will be able to have small amounts of marijuana for personal use in private, and every household will be able to cultivate up to four plants indoors or behind extremely high fences. That's as long as you have the space and the money to afford equipment and higher power and water bills, and it's not federally-­subsidized housing. 

It's a start. But that's all it is. We have a lot of work yet to do.

Doug McVay

Doug McVay

Writer and KBOO radio host based in Portland, Ore. He's also editor of DrugWarFacts.org.