Last week, I got up at 4:30 am, to leave at 6:30 am, to arrive in Salem by 8 am. Was I super eager to get to Salem for, uh, whatever it is Salem is so well known to offer? No, friends. I was dressed in my finery to lobby my gubbermint elected officials on the dangers of balloon animals and children. (Wait, no... that wasn't me. I was there to lobby for cannabis.)
This is a challenging time for Oregon. We are staring down a $1.6 billion budget short fall and any potential solutions to that are going to cause some real pain and suffering. And at the time of my visit, the Legislature was wrestling with nearly 3,000 House and Senate bills, so I wasn't exactly expecting a laser-like focus on my concerns.
That said, I was pleasantly surprised at the number of meetings I took with representatives and their staff, and the genuine interest and thoughtful questions each get-together produced. There are numerous bills relating to the Jazz Tobacco, but I was there to advocate for/against three of them. If you can stay awake through the rest of this wonkfest of a column, here are the positions I took in relation to each of them:
HB 2204: What the bill does: Upon passage, local governments would have the authority to create a tax on marijuana retail items at a rate of up to 8 percent.
Much like venereal diseases, new taxes are rarely a thing anyone is seeking, or enjoys once they get them. And that aforementioned budget shortfall means municipalities are going to seek to fill in gaps left after that budget is balanced. As of now, the state collects 17 percent tax, and local governments can opt to add up to 3 percent more. That 20 percent is already a hefty surcharge. It's far better than our neighbors to the north in Washington, who are dropping 37 percent on their purchases. (And moving a large number of Vancouver area residents to make a quick zip across the river to stock up.)
But the tax rate on non-regulated cannabis, i.e. what you get from your "guy," is 0 percent. The industry already pays more than its fair share in permits, licenses and other fees NOT placed upon the alcohol industry. The industry needs to stabilize and grow before more taxes are piled on.
SB 307: aka the Social Consumption bill. In brief, this bill would allow for consumption and sale of cannabis items at temporary events, establishment of cannabis lounges and some other good ideas.
(Full disclosure: I signed on as a supporter of this bill, which should shock absolutely no one.)
I've said before how absurd it is to promote the sale of cannabis to residents and tourists, charge them 20 percent tax, and them make them criminals for consuming it anywhere but in a private home. I've worked with numerous low income Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) patients who are seniors in Section 8 housing, where consuming in their residence can mean eviction. So, yeah, I'm in favor of not criminalizing cannabis consumers, nor putting pain-ridden poor seniors on the streets. This is a no-brainer.
HB 2198: aka the Consolidation bill. This would move the OMMP from the control of the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC).
While I know every Oregonian loves the OLCC, and changing its name to the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission would be kind of cool, this one gets a thumbs down.
First, things are precarious for Oregon's cannabis industry, and stopping to take a breath until licenses are fully issued before taking any more giant steps is our wisest move. Since recreational programs are under scrutiny by Jeff "Drugs are bad, mmmkay?" Sessions, putting all cannabis access into one basket is a risky bet. Maintaining a separate medical program protects producers and consumers. Let's see what Attorney General Barney Fife has planned before we toss out the OMMP.
As always, you can do your part by contacting your elected representative to share your feelings (about pending legislation, not how your Dad didn't show you enough affection.) A quick call or email can make a difference. Get involved.