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Plan consolidates regulation under the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and provides subsidy program for medical marijuana growers to maintain access for patients.

SALEM — Representatives from the marijuana industry, patient advocates and regulators have agreed on a plan for consolidating recreational and medical marijuana regulation under the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

"I think Oregonians like to take care of each other as best they can and I think system we have proposed today will allow them to do that," said Rob Patridge, chairman of the liquor control commission.

The Oregon Health Authority has regulated the medical marijuana program since it was created through Ballot Measure 67 in 1998. When voters legalized recreational cannabis use with Measure 91 in 2014, regulation of the new program was assigned to the liquor commission, while the health authority retained its oversight of the medical program.

People within both industries, lawmakers and regulators started last year discussing consolidating the programs in order to achieve efficiencies in cost and simplification in regulation. The Legislature's Joint Committee on Marijuana Regulation assembled a 15-member work group to craft the restructuring plan.

Lawmakers on the committee asked the work group to find ways to keep medical marijuana affordable, even free, for patients.

Under the agreement, the liquor commission would regulate marijuana with its existing five-member commission, with two additional non-voting members — one representing the alcohol industry and the other speaking for the marijuana industry. Commissioners would continue to represent congressional districts in the state. In addition, the agency would have an alcohol advisory committee and a marijuana advisory committee.

A board for the medical use of cannabis would be formed at the health authority to advise the commission. The health authority also would maintain responsibility for issuing medical marijuana cards to patients.

Medical growers and processors could enter the liquor control's regulatory system without paying the agency's typical $1,000 licensing fee and without the $480 in annual fees for the agency's marijuana tracking system by giving away 75 percent of their product to medical patients and paying a $200 fee. The growers could then sell the other 25 percent into the recreational market, Patridge said.

The fee waivers to medical growers would cost about $8.9 million every two years, if all 9,000 medical marijuana processors took that option, Patridge said.

Medical marijuana cardholders would still be allowed to grow marijuana for themselves and other patients without entering the liquor control regulatory system.

"They can still have that relationship where growers can give for free," Patridge said. "It would provide more access to varying strains because growers can give to a variety of patients, not just their own cardholders."

Commercial growers also would be incentivized to contribute to the medical supply with a 10 percent increase in their allowed cannabis grow canopy size, he said.

The consolidation would take more than two years, liquor control commission officials said.

It's now up to lawmakers to decide whether the plan will move forward.

Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau
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