There is a predictable calendar for political life. Elections happen in November, transitions happen in December, speeches happen in January, and the real work starts in February.
For legislators considering the continuing evolution of the cannabis industry, this year will be a big one. On the table in Oregon are a number of proposals that have broad industry support and stand to make a significant impact on the market.
One Fix—The Campaign for Cannabis Export
According to Casey Houlihan, Executive Director of the Oregon Cannabis Retailers Association (ORCA), “This is the only silver bullet to preserve the core of the original Oregon industry. Cannabis can provide jobs and would be an environmentally sustainable economic driver for the region.”
It is true that removing market distortions would have a transformative impact on Oregon industry. The 1.6 million pounds currently in the METRC system could garner between $2.5–$7 billion, a significant windfall for a state of four million people.
Not only would such exports jumpstart Oregon’s economy, they would also safeguard local capital already at risk. According to Adam Smith, from the Craft Cannabis Alliance, “We’re looking at hundreds of millions of dollars of local capital that is at imminent risk…. Many of these businesses are growing some of the best cannabis in the world, as efficiently as anyone anywhere. It matters that we understand that this is not an oversupply problem, it’s a political problem, a market access problem, and a prohibition problem.”
As the conversation turns from prohibition to normalization, the most urgent conversations surround justice. A brief survey of the history of prohibition and the War on Drugs paints undeniable lines of racism and exclusion that are still reverberating today. Without addressing these ongoing inequities, the expanding market will only further entrench existing harms.
Washington Governor Jay Inslee recently announced that low level offenses would be expunged statewide, and legislation is on the table to accomplish the same in Oregon, as well. The Oregon proposal would create a system in which convictions are automatically reviewed, rather than requiring individuals to apply for expungement. This will reduce the barriers to access for many more people. This initiative has widespread support, and several municipalities that have been considering their own actions are working with the state to make the impact felt as widely as possible.
This issue has been in active conversation in Oregon since the last full legislative session. In 2017, the Public Health lobby came out strongly against the bill proposed by the industry. Ultimately the initiative was unsuccessful, but proponents have vowed that this year will be a watershed.
As cannabis is normalized around the country, Oregon has a short window to influence the development of policy of this magnitude, and advocates are stepping up. The current proposal includes an amendment to the Clean Indoor Air Act, which will remove cannabis from the list of banned substances. Cannabis was added without much debate in the post-legalization policy setting, and proponents of the current update argue that it was done without much science. This exclusion is specifically prohibitive to patients, low-income renters, and other at-risk populations.
Executive Director of Oregon NORML, Madeline Martinez, points out the problematic nature of codifying consumption without addressing a change to the Clean Indoor Act. “This is about equal rights because whenever you pick a certain group and treat them differently that is discrimination. Medical marijuana patients, renters, the poor, people of color, and women are often the least likely to not have a safe legal space to consume legally purchased or possessed cannabis,”
Interested in learning more? ORCA, an Oregon based cannabis trade association, will be discussing these issues and several others at their upcoming Member Meeting: February 25 in Portland. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.