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Oregon’s Legal Weed Measure Explained

Legalization of marijuana for adult use qualified for the November ballot the same day a panel of legalization advocates outlined how the new Measure 91 will work if it passes. What will it do? How is it different from Washington’s and Colorado’s marijuana laws? What will be the impact on the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program? How will the tax revenues be allocated? What about hemp? What about the huge black market that currently distributes pot?

A “Stirring the Pot” discussion July 22 sponsored by Eugene Weekly drew about 100 people to Cozmic. Speakers were Anthony Johnson, chief petitioner for the New Approach Oregon initiative; Paul Stanford, who spearheaded Measure 80 that failed to get enough votes to pass in 2012; and state Sen. Floyd Prozanski, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. Moderator was Rick Levin, EW staff writer.

Johnson said pot legalization will be “set up similar to how beer and wine are regulated, with licenses through the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, taxed and only for adults over the age of 21.” He said OLCC will collect taxes of “$35 per ounce for flowers [aka buds], $10 per ounce for leaves and $5 for every marijuana plant that’s sold.”

Forty percent of the revenue generated will go to education, 35 percent to state and local law enforcement and 20 percent to the Oregon Health Authority for mental health and substance abuse treatment programs. The OLCC will have a year to work up rules before the law goes into effect.

Limited home cultivation will be allowed, he said, similar to home brewing and making your own wine, and the measure “explicitly protects the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program” (OMMP) and will allow the growing and sale of industrial hemp. “This will open up a new market for farmers who are currently not allowed to grow industrial hemp,” Johnson said, and overall the legislation will “generate millions of dollars in new revenue for our state.” Licensing fees will be set at $1,250 for any license, whether it be wholesaler, retailer, producer or processor.  

Those who qualify for an OMMP card and pay their annual fee will be exempt from the taxes imposed on non-OMMP pot. The current OMMP fee is $200 with discounts for those on state assistance or Supplemental Security Income.

Prozanski has long supported legalization of marijuana and hemp and said, “New Approach Oregon has taken the lead and they have a very sound piece of legislation, one that I will be supporting.” He also supports the new law being run by the OLCC since this agency, “more than any other,” has experience in this form of regulation, enforcement and taxation.

Prozanski was critical of the marijuana programs in Washington and Colorado and said Oregon’s program will be much better and will therefore discourage the black market and the organized crime that goes with it. Washington does not allow home cultivation and only allows possession of up to one ounce. “If you have over 40 grams [1.4 oz.], you go to jail,” he said. Colorado’s program is “particularly onerous and over-regulated,” he said, even requiring live video feeds from every grow operation to a central state agency.

In Colorado, marijuana stores have to grow 70 percent of what they sell, and in Washington growers cannot sell at all. Oregon’s measure allows vertical integration: You can be a producer, a processor and a retailer and not be taxed until you sell to a customer.

Prozanski is a prosecutor as well as lawmaker and was asked about all the thousands of people who are in jail or awaiting trial on pot charges. The measure doesn’t affect any previous convictions or sentences, he said, but “I expect to see DAs looking at reality and changing practices and dropping charges … we may need a legislative fix.” 

Wrapping up the evening’s panel, Johnson said, “Many people put in years of work to make this happen, and here in Eugene  I want to give a shout out to Jim Greig who was a tireless advocate for this cause.” Greig died June 16 (see Activist Alert for information about his memorial).

“We need a thoroughly well-funded campaign because marijuana is not going to legalize itself,” said Johnson. “It’s going to take people all over the state volunteering, contributing and doing what they can to make sure we win this election. We’re ready to end marijuana prohibition and stop treating this like a crime.”