On February 2, the US Attorney for Oregon, Billy “Stop calling me Lando” Williams held a cannabis summit and invited Governor Kate Brown, law enforcement, the IRS, regulatory agency staffs, and industry professionals to attend. (The press wasn’t allowed at most of it, because fake news, or democracy thrives in darkness, or something.) Major props, though, to Williams for holding the summit and for inviting representation from the cannabis industry. It wasn’t that long ago that those types of invites simply didn’t happen, so it should be applauded.
Williams called for the summit in a January 12 op-ed piece in the Oregonian, in which he addressed the rescinding of the Cole Memorandum by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and ominously declared, “The move gives US Attorneys wide latitude to develop district-specific strategies and deploy department resources without Washington, DC, artificially declaring some cases off limits.” (Ruh-roh...)
Williams went on to list some numbers supporting his argument that “Oregon has a massive marijuana overproduction problem” (he’s right, we do—more on that in a second), which results in crime, cartels, and diversion to other states. He concluded, “I have significant concerns about the state’s current regulatory framework and the resources allocated to policing marijuana in Oregon.”
Based on reports from those in attendance and statements released afterward by Brown and Williams, Southern Oregon will be getting the most attention due to its prolific cannabis production. Additionally, the representatives for rural Oregonians present at the summit indicated they’re not thrilled with legalization, the perceived impact it’s had, and the lack of resources allocated to enforcing regulation. Williams says he wants more data to understand the ins and outs of the unregulated marketplace and diversion; based on his op-ed announcement about the summit, that will likely include the as-yet unreleased report from the Oregon State Police on the matter. So your friendly local dispensary doesn’t have to worry about having its doors kicked in and assets seized (probably), but producers down south are going to get the most scrutiny and possible action. Heads up, folks.
About that oversupply thing: Does Oregon grow more cannabis than its citizens consume? Yes. That’s been the case for decades, long before there were medical or recreational programs. But the OLCC currently does not have a cap on licenses it issues to growers (or producers). As of February 13, there were 922 active producers, 15 approved but not paid, 560 assigned, and 372 ready for assignment. That’s 1,869 commercial producers, and that doesn’t take into account the four plants each Oregon resident of age may grow, or the 12 plants each medical patient may grow.
Putting aside Williams’ comments about crime and cartels (although crime is down, and cartels are a bogeyman), the overproduction issue could be addressed on a variety of fronts.
The first and seemingly least likely to happen under our current administration, is rescheduling cannabis from its present standing as a Schedule I drug. Make it what it truly is—an agricultural product—and allow for interstate commerce. There are many states currently receiving our surplus that we could be collecting tax revenue on, not to mention the family-wage jobs it would create. You can buy Oregon wine and beer most anywhere in the US, so let’s make it the same for flower and cannabis products.
Stepping up enforcement efforts to reduce out-of-state diversion costs money, so there exists the possibility of a new tax to fund such efforts. Allocating existing OLCC/OHA revenue to pay for this would be a better call than new taxes. There already is a heavy tax and fee burden placed upon the industry, slimming or eliminating profit margins. That can drive good people to consider bad choices regarding excess inventory.
We could also allow dispensaries to open in “dry counties,” and thus create channels for product to reach new consumers who otherwise might forgo.
It makes more sense to shape the response to overproduction by working on solutions that embrace the overwhelmingly positive aspects of a regulated cannabis industry, instead of falling back upon decades-old, failed policies of enforcement that penalize, destroy, and incarcerate—including the disproportionate targeting of people of color. That never worked, and never will. Time for a new plan.