The Weed Issue 2019
Oregon has too much pot.
To be specific: According to a recent report from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), the state’s legal cannabis inventory system currently has enough cannabis to last us six and a half years. There’s some debate among those in the industry as to whether that estimate is accurate, but there’s little question that the legal market is experiencing an oversupply problem.
A new bill in the Oregon State Legislature aims to alleviate that problem—and cement Oregon’s status as a pot industry leader—by changing state law to make exportation to other states legal.
“We have quite a supply of cannabis in the state right now,” said State Rep. Ken Helm (D), one of the bill’s chief sponsors, at a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. “It’s in our state’s interest to prevent the diversion of our product into the illegal market that is traded nationally and internationally.”
The bill, Senate Bill 582, would allow Oregon’s governor to enter into an exportation contract with governors of other states that border Oregon and have legalized recreational weed (currently, that means Washington, California, and Nevada).
If the bill passes this year, exportation wouldn’t start right away, as transporting cannabis across state lines is still against federal law. But advocates say it would put the state in an advantageous position when that federal law eventually changes.
Michael Getlin, director of the Oregon Industry Progress Association, says federal policy could change soon via a Department of Justice memo—perhaps even before the next full state legislative session in 2021. When that happens, states will be scrambling to set export regulations and figure out how to make their cannabis tracking systems work across state lines—but SB 582 would give Oregon a jump start on that process, Getlin said.
“We’re not trying to export before the feds do something about it,” he said. “But we’re going to be ready with the trucks on day one if we can.... Two years from now, when we go back into session, it’s going to be too late to fix some of these things.”
By giving Oregon an advantage in the export market, SB 582 could also protect the state’s strong weed knowledge base. Oregon, along with Northern California, is currently an industry leader in cannabis growth—much the same way Napa Valley is considered a mecca for wine. But as the industry grows and changes, that status is at risk.
Getlin is also the owner of Old Apple Farm, a cannabis farm in Oregon City. He’s already seen some of his Oregon colleagues getting bought out by out-of-state and Canadian corporations, and said that he could easily replicate his own greenhouse growing method—which produces indoor-quality flower for a fraction of the price of growing indoors—in 40 other states.
That means when corporate giants like Monsanto and Marlboro decide to cash in on the cannabis market, they could set up farms virtually anywhere in the country—and attract Oregon industry experts out of state in the process.
“The Napa Valley is a natural epicenter for wine because of a combination of climate, tradition, and skillset,” Getlin said. “Oregon’s the epicenter [of cannabis] because of tradition and skillset.”
In other words, there’s nothing physically binding industry leaders to Oregon. Rather, it’s a local knowledge base that’s in danger of being sold to the highest bidder. SB 582 could help give the state the competitive edge it needs to retain its strong, independent cannabis market, and make it a national leader when weed becomes legal at the federal level.
As of press time, SB 582 was working its way through the legislature, but had not yet been brought to a vote. For Getlin, the bill’s fate this session could be a bellwether for the future of Oregon’s cannabis industry.
“The discussion around what Oregon’s place is going to be in the market long term is very, very much dependent on some of the decisions we make right now,” he said, “during this legislative session.”