Cannabis legislation burns slowly through process
State lawmakers are considering more than two dozen bills that could affect Oregonians who consume recreational and medical marijuana.
Oregon voters approved legalizing recreational use of cannabis for adults 21 and older in 2014.
Since then, legislators have been shoring up the state's system to regulate the newly legal product.
This year, proposals would tighten some regulations and loosen others as the state continues to wrestle with a glut of cannabis plants and products. That excess has prompted federal authorities to insist on tougher regulation while lawmakers consider measures that would allow Oregon cannabis businesses to sell inventory in neighboring states.
State auditors recently uncovered issues with how the state regulates marijuana. In January, the secretary of state's office reported that the Oregon Liquor Control Commission has unable to keep marijuana from seeping into the black market.
Errors in the data the agency uses to track legal marijuana have made it harder to spot suspicious issues, and the agency hasn't employed enough people to keep up with the demand for licenses and the need for inspections, auditors said.
Lawmakers may take aim at the agency's workload issue by allowing the liquor control commission to limit marijuana licenses.
Cannabis has a long history in Oregon. The state's voters favored legalizing marijuana for medicinal uses in 1998, 25 years after Oregon became the first state to decriminalize cannabis.
The two markets — recreational and medical — continue side by side, with a well-established constituency rooting for medical marijuana.
The longstanding medical marijuana market is regulated mostly by the Oregon Health Authority, although the OLCC has stepped in to track medical dispensaries, processors and growers who grew medical marijuana for three or more patients. Medical marijuana cardholders can buy cannabis tax-free at retailers.
Bills rolling through Salem
Here is some of the cannabis-related legislation pending in the 2019 Legislature:
• You might be able to order cannabis through a state website — or from a neighboring city.
House Bill 2723 would direct the OLCC to set up a system so medical marijuana patients could order cannabis online.
Sponsor: Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland.
Status: Lawmakers conducted a hearing on the bill Monday.
Chatter: The OLCC doesn't think it's necessary for them to set up an online ordering system for the private sector, said the agency's executive director, Steve Marks.
The state could coordinate a medical marijuana delivery pilot, perhaps twice a month for a small group of patients in certain regions of the state, Marks said.
"Do people want it delivered? Can we organize it? Is it going to work for patients if we did something like this? And is it actually worthwhile?" Marks said in an interview with the Oregon Capital Bureau. "…I'm kind of skeptical. On the other hand, if we had a pilot, we'd have information to judge whether we'd want to do something larger or smaller in the future."
House Bill 2909 would allow retailers to deliver to adjacent cities and unincorporated counties that have also opted in to allow legal recreational cannabis.
Sponsor: Rep. Ken Helm, D-Beaverton, Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene
Status: Lawmakers heard public testimony on the bill Monday and Wednesday.
Chatter: "Creating efficiency and safety in technology for cannabis companies is one of the strongest actions we can take against the illicit market for cannabis," said Skip Newberry, president of the Technology Association of Oregon, in written testimony to the House Economic Development Committee.
• You could legally buy cannabis from California.
Senate Bill 582 would allow the Oregon governor to enter into a compact with bordering states with legal cannabis to coordinate and enforce regulations on licensed marijuana businesses. Licensed marijuana businesses could transport and sell Oregon marijuana in California, for example. But transportation methods that are regulated solely by the federal government couldn't be used. The current version of the bill specifies that the agreement between states has to include a way to track marijuana items and "enforceable public health and safety standards."
Sponsor: Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene and Rep. Ken Helm, D-Beaverton
Status: Lawmakers heard public testimony on the bill Feb. 7, with no movement since then.
Chatter: "Oregon producers have struggled because interstate sales and international sales are not legal," said Sarah Duff, media and outreach director for the International Cannabis Business Conference, in written testimony. "If they were, then our growers would be as valued and famous worldwide as Oregon wine makers."
• The state could reconsider past cannabis-related crime convictions.
House Bill 3144 would direct the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission to study setting aside certain marijuana-related convictions "based on conduct that is no longer unlawful" and report back to the Legislature in 2020.
Sponsor: House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, D-Portland
Status: The bill hasn't been worked or received a public hearing yet, but has been referred to the House Committee on Judiciary.
• It may become illegal for an employer to fire you because of a positive drug test for cannabis.
House Bill 2655 would prohibit an employer from using a positive drug test for legal substance, including cannabis, as the only grounds for firing, or as the sole reason not to hire you.
You couldn't use the substance during work hours, and it can't impair your work. The law wouldn't apply if a ban on consuming cannabis is a "bona fide qualification" for the job or is included in a collective bargaining agreement.
Sponsor: Rep. Chris Gorsek, D-Troutdale
Status: The bill received a public hearing before the House Business and Labor Committee on Feb. 13, but hasn't been voted on.
A companion bill, Senate Bill 379, received a public hearing Feb. 7 but has not moved either.
Chatter: "In addition to employees directly regulated by (the U.S. Department of Transportation), many employees within the trucking industry are still in safety-sensitive positions where impairment of any kind could jeopardize the health and safety of themselves, our drivers, or the motoring public," Waylon Buchan, a lobbyist for the Oregon Trucking Associations, told lawmakers in written testimony. Opponents of the bill have said the proposal could conflict with federal laws.
• You could smoke at a cannabis lounge or at temporary events, like festivals and concerts.
Senate Bill 639 would allow Oregonians 21 and older to smoke at temporary events and "cannabis lounges."
Sponsor: Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland and Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene.
Status: A public hearing was held Feb. 28 with no movement since then. A companion bill in the House, House Bill 2233, went through a public hearing Wednesday.
Chatter: "Both first-hand and second-hand marijuana smoke contains many of the same cancer-causing chemicals as tobacco smoke, and there is no evidence that ventilation of smoke within enclosed areas is effective in mitigating health effects," said Jessica Nischik-Long, executive director of the Oregon Public Health Association, in written testimony. "…The addition of cannabis cafes creates an increased risk of driving under the influence, as there are no assessments to measure when an individual is 'too high' to drive and no set guidelines to determine when someone should no longer be served.