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New report blasts Oregon’s cannabis bureaucracy, recommends new governing body to oversee the industry

By Meg Ellis
Nov 26, 2018

According to draft recommendations prepared by the Oregon Cannabis Commission, Oregon needs a separate state agency to regulate cannabis rather than having three separate agencies overseeing the state’s program.

Cannabis is currently regulated by three agencies in Oregon: the Oregon Health Authority, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, and the Oregon Department of Agriculture. According to the draft recommendations from the Commission, the state needs “to provide a unified and consistent vision on cannabis regulation.”

“Having pot oversight under one roof makes sense,” Beau Whitney, a senior economist with the Washington, D.C.-based firm New Frontier Data told the Statesman Journal.

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Confusion over cannabis-related issues has occurred in Oregon. Specifically, issues of bureaucratic jurisdiction. “In that sense,” Whitney said, “it would make things a little more streamlined in terms of the enforcement side.”

The Statesman Journal obtained the draft report through a public records request, providing a summary of the problems stemming from multiple bureaucratic branches of the state overseeing the Oregon marijuana program.

According to the report, the three agencies seem to have three separate missions.

“Each overseeing agency has its own mission and mandate, and views cannabis from its own lens,” noted the report. “This inconsistent vision and overlap of duties creates the potential for conflict.”

Additionally, the report stated that both law enforcement officials and growers alike have found answering to multiple state agencies to be a confusing and difficult process to navigate.

In a marijuana maze made of red tape

The roadmap for which bureaucratic branch was in charge of specific aspects of cannabis control and regulation has changed over time. The OLCC, the agency responsible for the sale and service of alcoholic beverages in Oregon is also responsible for regulating the sale of recreational marijuana through the Control, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana and Industrial Hemp Act.

The OLCC manages legal marijuana through the Recreational Marijuana Program, which tracks the growing, transporting, processing and selling of recreational marijuana products.

The OHA administers the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, but cannot provide legal advice regarding compliance with the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act.

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The ODA also has a finger in this managerial pot-pie, but only administers those programs that affect agriculture producers and processors, which can include cannabis production, processing, wholesale, and retail activities.

While the OLCC and the OHA are the two lead agencies for medical and recreational marijuana programs respectively, the ODA maintains its leadership role due to their own authorities surrounding agricultural issues.

When you have three state agencies, all maintaining multiple management components of cannabis rules and regulations, confusion and overlap is inevitable. As recently as July of this year, certain medical marijuana growers were required to utilize the OLCC’s tracking system, which is the system that licensed recreational growers also use.

In fact, the OLCC was so interested in medical marijuana, the OHA’s purview, that the OLCC announced in August that it planned to pursue $7 million per biennium in recreational pot tax money from the 2019 legislative budget to track medical marijuana.

So what are the marijuana growers, retailers, and users to do? To whom do they answer? The OLCC or the OHA?

Enter the Oregon Cannabis Commission

The Commission, established in 2017, is a branch of the OHA. They provide advice to the OHA with regards to the legalized marijuana program. Additionally, the Commission reports to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission as to state laws pertaining to registry identification cardholders and primary caregivers.

The Commission is tasked with finding a possible framework for the future governance of the Oregon Medical Marijuana program; developing a long-term plan for ensuring cannabis remains affordable to persons with debilitating medical conditions; and must monitor federal laws, regulations, and policies regarding marijuana.

Unfortunately, the Commission is still in the midst of developing the final report for statewide publication. OHA spokesman Jonathan Modie told the Statesman Journal that the recommendations are still in draft form. “No decisions have been made,” Modie said.

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The Commission was scheduled to meet on November 27 via conference call to discuss the report, but according to their website, the meeting had been canceled with no reference as to a future meeting date.

This cancellation comes as something close to a disappointment for expectant members of the cannabis community. According to Modie, the Commission was expected to
“Discuss and may vote upon [the report’s] recommendation.

If approved, it will be included in the report the commission is to provide to the interim committee of the legislative assembly related to health and judiciary.”

Considering pot’s political popularity at the moment, one can assume that a recommendation promoting streamlining and de-burdening the bureaucratic process will be a successful one.

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