Oregon Committee Hopes to Fast-Track Medical Cannabis Dispensary Regulations

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A committee created to craft regulations on medical marijuana dispensaries in Oregon has set an aggressive timeline for the rule-making process, saying it wants to give entrepreneurs plenty of time to read and understand the guidelines before the state begins accepting applications.

The goal is to publish official rules by Feb. 1, Tom Burns, who serves as director of the Oregon Health Authority Pharmacy Programs, said this morning during the committee’s first meeting. That would give medical marijuana entrepreneurs roughly a month to review the rules and work on their applications. The state must begin accepting cannabis dispensary applications by March 1 under a law the legislature passed this summer.

To publish rules by early February, the committee will have to complete the bulk of its work by Dec. 1 and submit its draft regulations two weeks later, Burns said.

Roughly 200 dispensaries currently exist in Oregon, according to MMJ Business Daily estimates, even though they are not technically allowed under the state’s 1998 MMJ law. The new measure paves the way for state-legal dispensaries, which must obtain licenses and submit to governmental oversight.

“We had an option (of putting) the rules in place on March 1, and people could start reading the rules as fast as they can and start sending in applications the day after that,” Burns said. “I’m concerned about that, so I have tentatively pushed the date for this rules advisory committee…to Feb. 1. That gives the community 28 days to review the rules, get their applications completed and submit the applications starting on March 1.”

It’s a very short time to craft comprehensive regulations on such a complex and controversial industry. Other states have spent much longer – in some cases years – developing rules governing dispensaries. State and local officials in other areas often grossly underestimate the time it will take to craft regulations, leading to repeated missed deadlines.

But the Oregon committee hopes to buck that trend by incorporating some lessons and standards used in other MMJ states and by huddling with other government agencies to help understand the issues and write rules. Burns, for instance, said he examined Colorado’s regulations on security and already has asked the Oregon Department of Agriculture for help on rules tied to the testing of marijuana.

“There are a number of areas here where we simply don’t know what to do,” Burns said, adding that there will be numerous “spin off” subcommittees to tackle these issues.

There is still a lingering question over which government agency will actually oversee medical cannabis dispensaries, but Burns said it will be “somewhere within the Oregon Health Authority.”

The committee has been charged with two main tasks that will shape the rule-making process: ensuring the overall safety of the community and allowing patients safe access to marijuana if they are eligible for treatment. The group consists of attorneys, law enforcement officials, MMJ business owners, advocates and other stakeholders.

Here’s a link to the video stream of the first committee meeting.