Legal retail marijuana won’t reach Oregon until next year, but fear not, potheads: The state has already made it possible for stoners to get their hands on non-medical weed.
Medicinal cannabis dispensaries are now allowed to sell pot, tax-free, to recreational users. Medical patients, as usual, will also be able to buy their supply without marijuana taxes.
Voters in Oregon approved legalization during the 2014 election, and the drug officially became legal earlier this year. But regulated retail pot shops won’t open until 2016. That leaves a gap during which the black market could thrive. To curb that problem, officials have cleared some medical dispensaries to sell for personal use.
Taking control from the black market
More than 200 of these medicinal shops, out of 345 in the state, have signaled to the Oregon Health Authority that they hope to sell recreational weed starting Oct. 1. Not all of those dispensaries will be cleared by the state, at least not right away, said Jonathan Modie, spokesman for the health agency.
Under Measure 91, the vote that legalized weed in Oregon, adults over 21 may buy and possess small amounts of pot from retail stores while locals may grow plants on private property. Marijuana will be subject to a 25 percent sales tax, but that won’t apply until Jan. 4.
The rules won’t be quite so generous during these early sales. Customers will be limited to a quarter ounce at a time, and no sale of concentrates or edibles will be allowed. Customer IDs will be required.
Tax-free recreational weed
Dispensary owners across the state say they look forward to the tax-free period, which could prove a windfall to shops that normally sell to a much smaller clientele. But they say there’s no way to know for sure what effects recreational sales will have on the medical market.
“It’s going to be a surprise for everybody, we’re hoping it’s really busy,” said Lois Pariseau of Gras Cannabis in Portland.
New dispensaries, including Pariseau’s, are apparently springing up in anticipation of early sales, especially in Portland. That has led to fierce competition, she said, and a street crowded with dispensaries.
It’s hard to predict how the first sales will go in Oregon. The state faces a potential pot shortage similar to the one that hit neighboring Washington when that state first opened legal marijuana shops in 2014. That could drive up prices and leave store shelves empty for weeks at a time.
Oregon threatened by potential pot shortage
Pariseau said her dispensary has its own grow site, but the crop won’t be ready until harvest arrives in several weeks. Many customers may find themselves with no legal cannabis to buy, or may find prices so steep it’s not worth leaving the black market.
Patients also have concerns: If recreational users buy up all the available weed, patients who need theirs could be left wanting.
“We’re really nervous,” said Anthony Taylor, president of Compassionate Oregon, a patient advocacy group. “The dispensaries might sell all the marijuana to recreational people and the patients will be left without their medicine.”
Patients could also be priced out of their medicine if supply shortages drive up costs, Taylor said. This is especially likely at small and new dispensaries, he said, in part because recreational customers will likely visit several dispensaries to buy more than their quarter-ounce limit; this, too, could deprive legitimate patients of affordable medicine.