Oregon’s Retail Marijuana Sales Could Start One Year Early

With the legalization of recreational marijuana in Oregon kicking off on July 1, 2015, there is still one major issue for residents looking to purchase the substance—the fact that they have to wait 15 months until recreational stores are licensed and open for business. This might not be the case anymore, as a bill was passed on July 2 that would allow retail sales as early as October.

If signed by Gov. Kate Brown, the bill, SB 460, would allow licensed medical marijuana dispensaries in Oregon to sell limited amounts of marijuana to customers that are over the age of 21 as soon as October 1, 2015. This is a full year ahead of when the first recreational marijuana stores are expected to open.

The bill that legalized recreational marijuana, Measure 91, stated that the Oregon Liquor Control Commission would not start accepting commercial retail license applications until January 4, 2016.

The largest reason that backers support this early sales bill is to try and hamper the black market in the gray period of legalization. With possession legal but no place to buy, the black market could potentially see an uptick in business revenue, negating a large reason for legalization in the first place. Additionally, making recreational marijuana available for purchase in medical dispensaries would deter consumers from crossing the state line to Washington, business that would otherwise stay in state.

This early sales bill would stay in place only until the state has a retail framework established. After this happens though, it is expected that many participating dispensaries will switch to a purely recreational structure and obtain retail licenses from the OLCC.

But just how many dispensaries are there in Oregon? More than there are McDonalds or Starbucks, it turns out. Since the state started licensing dispensaries in March 2014, there are 269 that are currently operational, with a total of 319 permits issued. Of these, a whopping 91 are in Portland.

As far as taxes apply to this early sales initiative, there is a whole other bill on the table. HB 2041 would apply a 25 percent sales tax to all retail sales of marijuana from medical dispensaries. The House president signed HB 2041 on July 3, and now it awaits the governor’s signature.

While HB 2041 would add a needed state tax, it would create another gray area—one where marijuana will not be taxed for recreational uses until January 4, 2016, when the bill would go into effect.

Even though sales have yet to begin, the desire for recreational marijuana is clearly in full effect. Numerous events were held in the days after the official start of marijuana legalization that utilized a part of the stipulations attached to Measure 91—the fact that it is perfectly legal to simply give away marijuana. Weed the People was one of the largest events, which took place in Portland on July 3.

The event required a $40 ticket to enter, but once inside, 7 ounces of marijuana were free to each attendee. Nearly 1,400 people attended the event, excited to participate in what The Oregonian called an historic event.

What will be most interesting is comparing Oregon’s success to other states, once the marijuana industry gets rolling. With a different infrastructure and approach, it might prove to be the most efficient state yet.

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