John Sajo Weighs in on Opting out in Oregon


This post is reproduced in its entirety from the Umpqua Cannabis Association Facebook Page

[Editor’s note: Longtime Oregon community organizer John Sajo consistently produces well-reasoned analyses of Oregon issues, especially as they relate to the impact of legal cannabis on medical cannabis policy. We are grateful to amplify his voice, which gets significant play in Oregon but deserves a wider audience.]

by John Sajo, Umpqua Cannabis Association

The Senate Committee on Implementing Measure 91 just voted to pass SB 964 which is a major rewrite of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act. On the one hand this bill would require every patient to report to the Oregon Health Authority every month exactly how many marijuana plants and how much marijuana they have on hand. Oregonians who agree to grow marijuana for a sick friend would have to do the same reporting and would also be subject to inspection by the health department. The idea behind all this new government intrusion into patients’ lives is to “regulate” medical marijuana and lessen the diversion of medical marijuana to the black market. Oregon Legislators are probably trying way too hard to honor the Cole Memo, which outlines the conditions for the federal authorities to defer to the state on matters of marijuana enforcement. The U.S. Congress voted last December to defund Justice Department enforcement of medical marijuana in states where it is legal, further complicating that federal/state conflict.

But on the other hand, Section 70 of SB 964 allows local governments to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries and processing sites within their jurisdiction. Counties can’t prohibit marijuana because Oregon voters legalized marijuana last November. Every household will be able to grow four plants. But in some counties patients won’t be able to buy medical marijuana. If these patients need vape pens or edibles so they don’t have to smoke, they will be out of luck. Banning dispensaries means qualified patients have to drive to the nearest county without a ban just so their anti-marijuana neighbors don’t have to ever see the marijuana store. Sounds like bigotry to me. Prohibition always stimulates the black market so counties that ban dispensaries will be promoting their local black markets.

Another problem with allowing county bans is the revenue the state will lose. Taxes and license fees will not be collected where stores and processing are prohibited. If a significant number of counties, particularly big ones, opt to ban, the state could lose tens of millions of dollars in marijuana revenue. Those counties, mostly poor rural counties, will also lose their share of the revenue.

Local bans on marijuana commerce are just plain wrong. Dispensaries serve the public that wants them and have minimal impact on the people that don’t. Dispensaries will not exist anywhere unless there are enough patients that benefit from shopping there. Making it harder for patients to get their medicine should not be tolerated. The law clearly allows local governments to impose all sorts of reasonable regulation to control where and how marijuana businesses operate. Oregon now has hundreds and they are not causing problems.

Allowing local governments to continue prohibition by banning dispensaries undercuts the voter mandate to legalize marijuana. It will undermine implementation of the law. The legislature should reject this bad idea.

This bill may be a wake up call to Oregon voters who legalized marijuana. We may not be able to implement that choice unless we also defeat the local officials who choose to undermine the law.