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The Good and the Bad in Pot Bills in Salem

My columns with the fewest number of "likes" are ones that deal with cannabis policy

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However, the least sexy/funny topics—such as bills pertaining to how we produce, sell and consume cannabis in Oregon—are of far greater importance than my take on the new OG Purple Ghost Rider Cookie Kush. ("It tasted of pot, and I felt high.")

So let's talk about two bills: SB1057, which just became law, and HB2198, under consideration as of this writing, and will most likely pass. These could mean some big changes, good and bad.

The GOOD (from SB1057): Specifies that a OMMP cardholder may jointly possess their six medical marijuana plants under OMMP along with their four marijuana plants allowed under Measure 91.

Some medical patients use products such as FECO (Full Extract Cannabis Oil) daily. Growing what is needed to produce a year's supply is more than most growers can harvest from six plants.

SB1057 specified OLCC licensed marijuana producers an additional 10 percent of their existing canopy square footage to produce marijuana for medical use (bump-up). It also requires marijuana producers who do utilize a bump-up to donate for free 75 percent of the marijuana produced.

I know recreational growers (RGs) who would love to grow for patients, and this will allow them to do so at no cost to the patient. So far, so good.

Then there's this (from HB2198):

Allows specified medical marijuana producers to transfer up to 20 pounds of usable marijuana to either a recreational marijuana wholesaler or processor if certain provisions are met.

Does that sound fair? It's not.

RGs pay a staggering number of fees to produce and sell cannabis solely in the recreational marketplace. That's where the majority of sales occur in Oregon, and all taxes are collected from recreational consumers, as OMMP cardholders are exempt from the 20 percent recreational sales tax.

As of October 2015, there were 48,699 registered OMMP growers

 If only 25 percent of them produced 20 pounds that they would now be able to sell to the recreational market via a wholesaler or processor, that's 954,000 pounds of cannabis entering into a marketplace that last year sold approximately 44,000 pounds of flower

More was used for edibles, extracts and topicals, but even if you triple that number, it's less than a quarter of what could enter the marketplace from med growers, who are exempt from the rules, fees and permits required of RGs. They aren't even required to register as a business.

I spoke with Meghan Walstatter, of Pure Green dispensary, which she owns with her husband, Matt.

"Medical grows have lower overhead than recreational grows, and they will be allowed to ignore many of the expensive regulations that OLCC licensees must follow, bringing their costs down even further," she said. "This will allow them to sell their product at a lower price than OLCC licensees who have played by the rules."

"Dispensaries would then sell this product at a lower price, reducing the taxes seen by the state and the local governments who have opted in to the local tax program," Walstatter continued. "Because medical growers are subject to substantially less scrutiny than OLCC licensees, and because the market will be flooded with inexpensive, medically grown product, it creates conditions ripe for diversion into the illegal market. This is a major concern for the state, and we will be exacerbating any existing issues in this area."

Many of the people I have spoken with feel this may be a reaction by the state to the Cole memorandum, which we've explored in past columns. (It's the Obama-era document that allows states to maintain a recreational cannabis program if they follow several basic rules, one being that cannabis can't leave the state in which it was produced.) Now that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is making noises about cracking down on recreational programs, any actions taken by the state to demonstrate efforts to curb product leaving our borders may take the heat off. Allowing extra to be sold in this manner way be viewed as proactive by some.

But at what cost? Decimating the RGs to save the recreational program is not a good plan. Let's hope the cure doesn't kill the patient.


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