Legislators will need to take a careful look, but a recommendation that the state consolidate the regulation of legal marijuana under a single independent agency certainly seems to make sense at first glance.
The recommendation was made in a draft report from the Oregon Cannabis Commission, a state board which advises the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission on the statutes governing medical and retail marijuana in Oregon.
The fact that the commission has to work with those two separate agencies helps to indicate the problem here. In Oregon, the Health Authority regulates medical marijuana. But the Oregon Liquor Control Commission regulates recreational marijuana. And a third state agency is involved in the mix as well with the Oregon Department of Agriculture regulating agricultural issues involving pot.
In retrospect, you can see why legislators who were charged with building the regulatory framework surrounding legalized marijuana in Oregon made the decisions they did. They had to build that framework generally from scratch, and it made sense at the time to parcel out regulatory oversight among existing agencies. It was one fewer piece that they had to construct.
And it must have made sense at the time to have the Oregon Health Authority handle issues regarding medical marijuana. Similarly, it made sense to parcel out regulation of the recreational pot market to the Liquor Control Commission, which already oversaw the market for another intoxicant, alcoholic beverages. As for turning over agricultural pot issues to the Department of Agriculture — well, that must have seemed obvious.
Obvious, yes — and we should emphasize here that, in general, we think legislators did good work in rolling out the regulatory framework for recreational marijuana.
In practice, though, having three separate agencies working from different angles for what amounts to the same commodity has not worked so well, according to a draft report from the Cannabis Commission, which was established in 2017 Legislature to offer guidance to the various state agencies working with pot.
The report, obtained by the Statesman Journal newspaper in Salem through a public records request, found that having the three separate agencies manage marijuana has created confusion. In addition, each agency appears to have a different idea about how to manage pot.
Retailers, dispensaries and users aren't the only people confused, the report concluded: Law enforcement agencies and growers also have found the three-agency approach "confusing and difficult to navigate," the report found.
It hasn't helped matters much that some of the agencies are beginning to absorb duties that previously were handled by others. For example, some medical marijuana growers were required as of July 1 to use OLCC's Cannabis Tracking System, which also tracks growers of recreational pot. And OLCC officials said earlier this year that they were planning to ask the Legislature for an additional $7 million from recreational marijuana tax money in every two-year budget cycle to track medical marijuana. (Medical marijuana is not taxed in Oregon.)
Because marijuana remains illegal on the federal level, there's always a level of uncertainty that has surrounded the growth of Oregon's legal pot business. It will be interesting to see how, or if, federal positions on marijuana change with the ouster of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime foe of legalization. And the Oregon pot industry does face problems of its own making, most notably a big surplus of weed that has caught the attention of Billy Williams, the state's U.S. attorney.
All in all, it adds up to a situation in which it might be best to consolidate regulatory authority for Oregon pot under one agency.
The report is just a draft document at this point. Assuming these recommendations move forward to the Legislature's 2019 session, this could be a key moment in the state's fascinating experiment with legalized marijuana.