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Rolling It out

Recreational users can buy pot at medical dispensaries starting Oct. 1, and other updates

Free joints, lines around the block, medical marijuana express lanes — the first day of October will surely be a day of celebration for many and, perhaps, a headache for others. 

Oct. 1 marks another milestone for cannabis legalization in the state of Oregon: Medical marijuana dispensaries will be able to legally sell limited amounts of pot to recreational users — customers without an Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) card — who are over the age of 21 with valid proof of age.

“I have people calling me just telling me how excited they are to come,” says Adam Deering, manager of the Amazon Organics dispensary in south Eugene. “It’s going to be a big tidal wave of change.”

The move is the next step of many in the piecemeal rollout of Oregon’s recreational marijuana program by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), the government agency tasked with taxing, licensing and regulating “recreational marijuana grown, sold or processed for commercial purposes.” The OLCC will also be implementing new rules for marijuana lab testing and accreditation.

As stated in Measure 91, passed just under a year ago, private recreational marijuana use and limited possession and home production became legal in Oregon July 1, but it left many recreational users in the “immaculate conception” conundrum — you can have it, you can smoke it, you can grow it, but you can’t buy it. 

The OLCC and the state have been playing catch-up in crafting regulations ever since the passing of Measure 91. License applications for recreational dispensaries won’t be accepted by the OLCC until Jan. 4, 2016, and many expect the first of those dispensaries won’t open until late 2016. 

This summer, many consumers, dispensary owners and others in the industry put pressure on lawmakers to close this gap, arguing that it would only inflate the black market, whose prices are already competitive. A quarter-ounce of pot on the street runs about $40 to $50 a pop, the cheapest rate of any state in the country, whereas the recreational price for a quarter-ounce bought from a dispensary will be about $70. 

On July 28, Gov. Kate Brown signed Senate Bill 460 into law, which created an “early sales period,” a stopgap measure allowing dispensaries to sell up to a quarter-ounce of marijuana flowers, four immature plants and an unlimited amount of seeds to each individual customer per day. The bill states that medical dispensaries cannot sell edibles or concentrates for recreational use. This early sales period expires Dec. 31, 2016.

“Our expectation is that OLCC licensed retailers will begin selling recreational marijuana sometime in the fall of 2016,” says OLCC Public Affairs Specialist Mark Pettinger, explaining the expiration date.

Bill 460 also tasks the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), the agency that oversees the OMMP, with regulating recreational retail sales in medical dispensaries.

“Our concern is ensuring medical marijuana dispensaries remain in compliance with both early retail marijuana sales rules and the medical marijuana dispensary regulations,” OHA Communications Officer Jonathan Modie says, adding that “we’re advising [the OLCC] closely during this early period.”

Due to this early sales period, medical dispensaries have had to scramble to adjust their operations.

“I’ll definitely have two stations,” Deering says of Amazon Organics. “I’ll have a direct line for medical patients so they won’t have to wait behind recreational clients.”

Across town on Franklin Boulevard, Eugene OG has beefed up its dispensary from one checkout station to three. “One exclusively for medical marijuana,” general manager Lawrence Siskind says. “Two for recreational.” Eugene OG has also doubled its staff and Siskind expects sales to at least triple. 

“We are buying as much flower product as we can get our hands on,” he says. “That’s number one.” 

At the Eugene Cannabliss & Co. location on E. 11th (there are two Portland dispensaries), manager Teryn Heyler says they are remodeling a second room in the Victorian house-turned-dispensary to be exclusively for recreational retail. “We are going to keep our medical room just medical and retain that experience,” she says. Cannabliss has also doubled its staff.

“We are going to be giving away free joints,” Heyler says. “We’ll see how long supplies last.”

Over on West 11th, the Sweet Tree Farms dispensary is developing a new point-of-sales system to streamline the process. But Manager Amanda Berry says Sweet Tree Farms won’t be making any big changes until Jan. 4, when dispensaries are required to start collecting a 25 percent tax on recreational marijuana. 

“Until January, I want to keep the focus on medicinal,” Berry says. “At that point, we’re probably going to change the entrances.” Berry also says the current daily limit per customer of a quarter-ounce of marijuana, or about 7 grams, during the early sales period is a good cap. 

“There are going to be a lot of people who bounce around to different dispensaries because of that,” she says. “Our systems aren’t linked by any means; no one is regulating that.”

Modie, of the OHA, confirms this. “We don’t have any ability to control or regulate that,” Modie tells EW.

Meanwhile, other regulations are still shaking out in the OLCC’s Rules Advisory Committee and Technical Subcommittees, which oversee everything from growing, labeling, packaging, retail, edibles and extracts and more.

The Laboratories and Traceability subcommittee — which looks at, among other things, consistent lab testing of THC and CBD, tolerances for pesticides and molds, and lab accreditation — has made significant headway.

“House Bill 3400 was a big win for lab testing,” says Bethany Sherman, who sits on the committee and runs the OG Analytical lab on West 11th. In June, EW wrote about the dangerous amounts of pesticides found in marijuana, especially extracts, and the rampant lack of accountability and accreditation in lab testing (“Dirty Medicine,” 6/25). 

Sherman and OG Analytical lab director Rodger Voelker have been some of the leading advocates for improved lab standards. Since June, Sherman says, there’s been a general industry push to regulate labs.

On June 30, Gov. Brown signed the sweeping HB 3400, which puts new size limits on recreational grow operations, lets voters at the city and county level impose up to a 3-percent sales tax on pot and requires new lab testing standards.

“We’ve won the pesticide battle,” Sherman says. New regulations address how marijuana samples are collected for testing, as well as setting standards for testing for mold and a target list of pesticides. 

“We are expecting a new set of draft rules to come out soon,” Sherman says, adding, “the OLCC is thinking sometime mid-October, but we don’t have a specific date yet.”

While regulations are still coming down the pipeline, many aren’t waiting to celebrate. Sweet Tree Farms will host a party with food trucks and live music kicking off Oct. 1 and running through the weekend, and we hear other dispensaries are commemorating the occasion as well — so check with your neighborhood shop.  

But Berry of Sweet Tree Farms, as did all the dispensaries EW spoke with, cautioned patience.

“There’s going to be a lot of trial and error at this point,” she says. “There are going to be lines out the door.”

If you find the recreational program’s rollout confusing, you’re not alone. Keep yourself informed by reviewing the state’s FAQ at wkly.ws/22k.

The OHA’s Retail Marijuana Scientific Advisory Committee holds its monthly meeting, open to the public, 3 to 5 pm Thursday, Sept. 24, at the Portland State Office Building, Room 1-B, 800 N.E. Oregon Street, Portland. OG Analytical hosts its free monthly educational series — Cannabis Science Pub — 6 to 9 pm Tuesday, Sept. 29, at Cozmic. The topic will be statistics and variance in cannabinoid potency.