COMMISSIONER NICK FISH visited a Portland pot dispensary recently, and came away from the experience high on commerce.
“I was impressed,” Fish told me, promising that he hadn’t purchased anything. “It’s becoming an incredibly mature industry. Who knew there were so many kinds of edibles?”
Plenty of people, for one, but it’s good the commissioner’s finally getting his feet wet. After all, Portland’s had tight regulations for local pot businesses on the books for more than nine months—many of them questioned by the industry. They include strict rules on where retailers and medical dispensaries can sit and when they can operate, a list of requirements around security, and steep fees for licenses meant to pay for city regulation.
And suddenly, some members of city council are questioning whether all of those rules are appropriate.
Fish was spurred to his first-ever dispensary visit by a letter Congressman Earl Blumenauer sent to him and other council members in late May.
“Portland’s system appears to unnecessarily duplicate the state’s licensing process,” Blumenauer wrote, referring to Oregon Liquor Control Commission regulations, “with extra costs to small marijuana business owners.” The thousands of dollars Portland charges in licensing fees, he noted, “are by far the highest in the state.”
A follow-up call by the congressman cemented Fish’s concern: Was Portland potentially stepping on the neck of its next big craft industry through excessive regulation?
Fish isn’t the only one having those thoughts. Commissioner Dan Saltzman has long worried aloud that the city’s pot regulations merely add another useless layer of bureaucracy to the cannabis market. And Commissioner Steve Novick says he’s also begun to question the city’s rules.
“I frankly didn’t understand until recently how much more extensive our regulations are than those of other cities,” Novick says.
The worry is partly inspired by Eugene, which took a hands-off approach to regulating weed commerce. And it’s not hard to envision the fretting leading to sharp exchanges in city hall.
Fish, for instance, says he’s no longer sure where pot regulation belongs in Portland city governance. Currently, the city’s Marijuana Policy Program is run out of the Office of Neighborhood Involvement (ONI), which also regulates bars and noise. Fish wonders if it might have a better home in a bureau equipped to cultivate small business.
But any push to transfer pot ity from ONI’s clutches would almost certainly be opposed by Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who oversees the bureau, and who will campaign for voters to pass a 3 percent local sales tax on recreational pot sales in November.
“We believe ONI has done an excellent job of implementing this program,” says Fritz’s chief of staff, Tim Crail. Fritz has agreed another look at the regulations is warranted.
It’s too soon to say what’ll come of this discussion. Novick’s office is planning to get a council work session scheduled in coming months. But with a majority of council now interested in Portland taking a lighter touch, pot industry members who’ve opposed city regulations have reason to be optimistic.
“The first rules we adopted were done largely in a vacuum,” Fish says. “The question now is: What is our role in regulating?”