Oregon has officially joined the growing list of states that allow medical marijuana dispensaries.

Gov. John Kitzhaber signed legislation Aug. 14 legalizing retail pot shops. It will be the first time pot is sold in stores since medical marijuana was introduced in the state 15 years ago.

The new law legalizes dispensaries and creates a registry for them. It also allows them to charge for their product and to reimburse growers. In the past, medical marijuana patients could only pay growers for the cost of utilities and supplies.

The legislation, House Bill 3460, passed the state House and Senate in July. But Kitzhaber sat on it for several weeks. His signature marks something of a turnaround for a career politician.

Oregon’s Marijuana History

Oregon has a long history as one of the most open-minded states when it comes to marijuana. It was the first state to decriminalize marijuana, in 1973, and was one of the earliest to legalize medical use, in 1998. But in 1997 the state almost took a dramatic step backward when the state Legislature passed a bill to revoke decriminalization.

Kitzhaber, who was governor at the time and didn’t want to look soft on crime at the height of the Republican Revolution, signed that bill. It was killed by voters in a referendum, though, and now Kitzhaber finds himself on the other side of the table, liberalizing marijuana law.

Getting The New Bill Passed

The rules won’t go into effect immediately, though. The Oregon Health Authority will have until March 1 of next year to draft rules that will govern the dispensaries, patient access and government oversight. The OHA will be responsible for regulating and inspecting pot shops.

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“I have asked the director of the OHA to broadly engage all of the stakeholders, including law enforcement, when promulgating the rules regarding dispensaries,” the governor said in a signing statement attached to the bill. “I believe it will be critical to set fees for dispensaries that will provide sufficient funding to OHA so they can be extraordinarily vigorous in their enforcement of the rules that are developed.”

Rules and Regulations of the New Law

Providers who sell outside the new system will remain liable to criminal penalties, and prosecutors in some parts of the state have signaled that they still plan to move forward with pending cases against medical marijuana sellers.

Under the rules, retail dispensaries must be separate from grow sites, so growers who continue to sell may also be prosecuted. Anyone wanting to operate a dispensary must be an Oregon resident and must not have a felony record for manufacture or delivery of an illegal drug. The law bans the sale of edibles and other marijuana-infused products.

Oregon is now the 15th state to allow dispensaries to sell medical pot. Despite continuing federal raids and criticism of dispensary systems in places like California, only a handful of the states that permit medical marijuana don’t also allow dispensaries.

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