2016 was a roller coaster year for Oregon’s cannabis community. We won some battles and suffered some major setbacks. We saw several new versions of the regulatory framework that governs our work.
We nearly lost extracts and edibles in the spring, only to see processing saved at the last-minute. We launched the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) regulated recreational system in the fall with a few hiccups along the way. We have seen many changes to the rules around lab testing, some with disastrous results.
2017 brings a new year, a new legislative session, and undoubtedly some new rules (this is cannabis, after all). With that in mind, and in the spirit of the holidays, here is my cannabis holiday wish list for Oregon’s cannabis community this upcoming year.
1. New Lab Testing Rules
This is a topic I have written on extensively in the last few months. It is without a doubt my top priority for 2017. The current rules make it very difficult for labs to get licensed. The lack of lab capacity has created a serious logjam, with growers and processors often waiting more than a month for results that used to return within 72 hours.
These rules also make lab testing extremely expensive, and in many cases cost prohibitive. Between the bottleneck and the additional expense, it has become extremely difficult to bring products to market in Oregon, resulting in product shortages, lost sales, layoffs and business closures.
The state has been working closely with the industry in an effort to ameliorate the situation. We have seen multiple changes to the lab testing rules in the last couple of months, but much work remains if we are to reach our goal of creating a testing regimen that can assure public safety in an affordable manner while serving as a model for other states.
2. Consolidated Regulation
We have two separate systems governing the production, processing, and sales of cannabis in Oregon. The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) regulates the medical system, while the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) runs the recreational system (which is set up to serve both recreational customers and medical patients).
The result is two sets of rules enforced by two different regulators, with a great deal of waste and redundancy baked in. I understand the need for two separate systems, and I am a staunch supporter of continuing to have separate medical and recreational systems. But I do believe that they could be administered by a single regulator.
Such a system would not only be more efficient for the state and easier to navigate for businesses, it would also protect patient access by helping to assure continued existence of the medical program.
3. Banking Relief
The lack of access to banking services is one of the biggest challenges of running a cannabis business. Only through federal action will we see the banking system open up to our industry.
There is, however, a potential state-level solution in the meantime. As first proposed in Ohio’s medical cannabis law, states can create a closed loop payment system for cannabis businesses. Such a system would be administered by the state, which would hold and transfer all funds.
Consumers would be permitted to open an account within the system, and to add value to their account with cash, credit cards or electronic transfers from their bank account. The consumer would use that account to make purchases in retail cannabis facilities. The funds would then be transferred from the customer’s account to that of the store in a manner similar to a credit card transaction.
Since all cannabis businesses would have an account in the system, it could be used for payments between businesses; such as when a dispensary purchases flower from a grower. When a business needs to make a payment outside the system, say for rent or a utility bill, the state cuts a check and sends it along.
This wouldn’t solve all of our banking woes, but it would give all cannabis businesses in the state the equivalent of a checking account. It would also remove much of the cash from the system, with huge public safety benefits, and allow customers to tap into their consumer credit to purchase cannabis. We’ll be watching Ohio’s experience closely as we advocate for a similar system here in Oregon.
4. Social Consumption
As we move beyond the legalization of cannabis, and into the process of normalization, we need more places to consume cannabis beyond private residences.
Some people have nowhere to smoke cannabis at all—think tourists staying in hotels or Oregon Medical marijuana Program (OMMP) patients living in Section 8 housing. Others simply want to be able to share a toke with friends (or even strangers) over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Our industry would like to host events where the public is invited to sample our wares.
Significant issues exist around public consumption of cannabis, from driving under the influence to laws like Oregon’s Clean Indoor Air Act. But we have found ways to allow folks to enjoy alcohol in public and we will find ways to do the same with cannabis.
This list is by no means comprehensive. For example, our industry needs relief from punitive tax rules like 280E. I would also like to see the Oregon Health Plan begin covering cannabis as it does with all other medications.
But these do represent important priorities for Oregon’s cannabis community. Hopefully we can make some progress on all of them.