Ted Wheeler oregon.gov

A FEW MONTHS AGO, I saw Ted Wheeler speak at a fundraiser to a room full of cannabis industry folks. He spoke about cannabis, and the people who work with it, in the type of welcoming and supportive tone one might not expect from a mayoral candidate. So, after telling his director of communications that I wanted to ask Wheeler about canna industry issues, and not what his favorite strain was, Wheeler agreed to answer the Mercury's questions.

MERCURY: What will you do to help facilitate the smooth and timely licensing of marijuana businesses?

TED WHEELER: Some businesses in the industry are being prevented from opening, and in some cases functioning, because the process is complicated and fees are high. This could potentially lead some would-be entrepreneurs, and in turn consumers, to the black market. That would be a bad outcome since Oregonians have determined they want a legal, taxed, and regulated marijuana industry. As mayor, I will support the ongoing systems improvement needed to ensure we have a transparent and timely licensing process.

What will you do to make sure that the enforcement process is not just as difficult?

We need to keep an eye on the fee and regulatory structure as it matures and track its effects on business, and focus on keeping both business owners and the public informed.

1. Anyone who receives a marijuana license should be able to sign up for updates and current information related to changes in policy or the status of permits. The same should also apply to members of the general public. The Oregon Legislature has a very effective email alerts and monitoring program (the Oregon Legislative Information System) for the public to receive email updates on legislation as it moves through the House and Senate during session.

2. The Marijuana Control Plan requires that applicants include information about their security, with the intent that neighborhood associations can have proof that businesses are securing themselves. But the system is not perfect. For example, because the city publicly posts dispensaries security information online, potential burglars have all the information they need to rob a business. These issues have been raised by industry advocates. I will make sure the city is listening to industry leaders and their ideas to make our city safer.

What will you do to encourage investment in marijuana businesses in Portland?

When I meet with entrepreneurs in the industry, I'm energized by their vision and optimism for the industry, and the economic opportunity it poses for our community. Voters approved a legal, regulated, and taxed cannabis market, and I view it as my role to help successfully implement the will of the voters. If business owners know that Portland is a safe place where they're respected and welcomed, they'll open businesses here and hire Portlanders who want to work here.

What kind of oversight will you have over the Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI) as this process moves forward?

[ONI] has a role promoting safe and livable neighborhoods in Portland. That includes a role over the issuance of licenses. The city should monitor to evaluate the implementation of the Marijuana Control Plan, and I look forward to working with ONI to help tailor the office's role in Portland's cannabis industry.

We should remember that we are in the fledgling days of Measure 91. Both business and government have a responsibility to cooperate to provide a positive example to other states and communities who are considering legalization.

The Oregon Health Authority passed regulations on smoking or vaping cannabis indoors. This penalizes tourists who wish to try their cannabis purchases in their hotels and affects medical marijuana patients who live in Section 8 housing. Isn't it important to give medical and recreational users a safe space to consume indoors?  

We should protect the rights of patients as was intended when Measure 91 was passed. Consumers should have access [to a] safe place to consume cannabis and cannabis products indoors. [Same goes for] patients who face rent barriers. I'm interested in exploring how we could regulate public consumption venues locally. Cannabis cafés, for example, potentially represent a safe place to consume.

There are industry advocates who will be bringing these issues before the legislature in 2017. Cannabis shouldn't be consumed anywhere that cigarettes aren't consumed, but if the goal is safe public consumption, we have work to do in Portland.

When MusicfestNW moved to Waterfront Park, the event took on sponsorship from big tobacco, in the form of a tent that offered coupons for deeply discounted cigarettes. When I suggested the idea of having that tent replaced with cannabis businesses, I was told that would be impossible, as Portland Parks and Recreation receives federal money. How is a proven cancer-causing product at a music festival better than cannabis?

Portland has already successfully hosted several public consumption events. There will be growing pains, but there is no reason Portland cannot be a leader when it comes to cannabis-related festivals.