By John Schroyer
Oregon will become the fourth state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana possession when a measure voters approved last year goes into effect this July, but getting the actual industry up and running will take a good bit more time than that.
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) is knee-deep in the process of figuring out regulations for businesses, and it isn’t even slated to begin accepting applications for business permits until Jan. 4, 2016.
OLCC Chairman Rob Patridge has been in the thick of that process for months now, traveling the state as part of a “listening tour” so the commission can get input from those in the already established MMJ industry, as well as concerned citizens who wonder how the new industry will affect their communities.
Marijuana Business Daily caught up with Patridge recently to get an idea of what the regulatory landscape will look like when the rec industry launches and what types of rules residents and current MMJ business owners would like to see. (Note: The OLCC has come out with specific policy recommendations for the Legislature, but there’s still a long way to go in the rulemaking process.)
The OLCC is going to start accepting business licenses in January. Will do you think licenses will actually be issued?
Our plan is to issue our licenses progressively, so we would prioritize. We would do growers first, processors second, and then look at wholesale and retail licenses next. We’re going to go in accordance with the market, in terms of how the product follows its path to the market.
Will the commission taking any cues from either Washington State or Colorado in terms of specific regulations?
Absolutely. We’re looking at our neighbors to the north and to the east to try and borrow some of the best practices that they have to offer.
We’re certainly looking to the edibles piece, to figure out what other states have done, and avoid some of the potential pitfalls. We really believe that marijuana in Colorado is the better model, and the closer model to what we’re going to emulate.
All three systems (Colorado, Washington and Oregon’s) are unique, and we’re going to do this Oregon’s way. Our tax structure is different, which makes our regulatory structure somewhat different.
We had a conversation about edibles and child-resistant packaging, we’ve had conversations about how people want a residency requirement, which has been heard loud and clear. Smaller-sized grows, too.
What about a cap on the number of businesses statewide? That’s one of the differences between Washington and Colorado.
We don’t have a license cap in Oregon as part of the regulation, just like we don’t have on alcohol. That’s something that certainly could be talked about.
Very few people have suggested we have any kind of licensing cap or lottery or anything. That’s been a minority opinion.
What do you think will happen to existing MMJ businesses? Will they get wrapped into recreational somehow, or will they perhaps get first crack at rec licenses?
There’s a lot of questions about what’s going to happen between medical and recreational. The way the measure was set up originally, it was not a good mix, to put it together.
There’s been some strong interest in combining the systems, to ensure that there’s not a black market out there. That is a topic that continues to get brought up, but that’s not the OLCC’s province. That’s really the province of the Legislature.
Has it been discussed or decided whether the OLCC is going to use a merit-based system to award business licenses?
I’m not sure we’re a scoring state at all, from an alcohol standpoint. People apply for licenses, if they pass background checks and do all those things and have insurance, then we allow them to proceed in business.
There has been some talk about a merit-based system, but that’s not something that’s on the front burner right now.
Have you received any feedback from people already in the industry in Oregon on specific regulations?
We’ve listened to over 2,000 people on this tour, and about 85% of those have been current industry people or future marijuana entrepreneurs. So they have certainly dominated a lot of the conversation related to what they want and their desires in building a system.
They’re interested in preserving smaller grows. We have the number one craft distilling state in the country. We have the number one craft brewing state in the country.
They really want craft growing, is what I would say. They’re really interested in the craft economy. That’s been a huge issue, along with quality control. They’re very interested in the OLCC setting testing standards that Oregonians can understand.
Do you think the time afforded to the OLCC to come up with workable regulations is enough, or might there be delays early next year in getting the system up and running?
I think that we have some time to put the basic structure in place to do what we need to do from a regulatory standpoint, but there are a lot of people out there who watched both Colorado and Washington struggle on the edibles front, and we want to make sure and get it right.
I’ve told people I’ll be the first person out in front saying, ‘We need more time.’
We don’t want to roll out a system that can create harm. We want to roll out a system that’s responsible, that does it like Oregonians expect.
Because the Jan. 4 deadline is there, we’re going to do our best to meet that to start accepting applications, but we’re going to be cautious.
John Schroyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org