Oregon Lawmakers Consider Bill That Would Pave Way for Exporting Cannabis to Other States

Senate Bill 582 gets a public hearing and the city of Portland is among those backing the move to ease Oregon's oversupply of weed.

Steens Highway in Southeastern Oregon. (China Kirk and Kirtiraja Zakheim)

On Feb. 7, the Senate Judiciary Committee made the first step toward what cannabis advocates hope will eventually be interstate trade in cannabis, when the committee held a public hearing on Senate Bill 582.

The bill would establish a framework for "cross-jurisdictional coordination and enforcement of marijuana-related businesses," between adjoining states in which cannabis is legal (right now, that would be California, Nevada and Washington). The bill specifically prohibits transporting marijuana by air, because airspace is federally regulated, or through "any mode of transportation subject solely to federal regulation."

That latter condition would appear to leave open the eventual movement of cannabis on highways and roads subject to state and local regulation, although it is unlikely cannabis producers or wholesalers  will be in a hurry to challenge federal laws that forbid such movements.

Among those testifying in favor of the move toward cross-border cannabis: the city of Portland. Suk Rhee, the director of the city's Office of Community and Civic Life, and Brandon Goldner, the city's cannabis program supervisor, said Oregon can help other states get implement recreational cannabis and extend the state's brand ahead of eventual national legalization.

"Recreational cannabis marketplaces in each state have been limited to trade within their own borders," they said in written testimony. "We believe the time has come for that to change."

By now, the towering over-supply of recreational cannabis in Oregon is a matter of widespread knowledge.

Related: Oregon grew more cannabis than customers can smoke. Now shops and farmers are left with mountains of unclaimed bud.

Policymakers decided early on that they'd target the state's illegal market by granting an unlimited number of licenses to grow and sell recreational weed. That policy succeeded: a recent report from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission found that there's currently six-and-a-half years worth of consumption in inventory in the recreational system. Prices have dropped more than 50 percent since the fall of 2016, and Beau Whitney, an economist who tracks the industry expects prices to continue a significant decline.

Senate Bill 582, would begin to establish a framework for exporting cannabis to other states.

The sponsors of the bill, state Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene) and state Rep. Ken Helm (D-Beaverton), are both lawyers and well aware that cannabis remains illegal under federal law and that shipping the drug from one state to another is a felony. So the bill is a preliminary step and an effort to be ready when the national climate tilts toward full legalization.

Billy Williams, who as the U.S. Attorney for Oregon is the state's top federal law enforcement official, told the Associated Press on Feb. 7 in response to the bill that no matter what lawmakers have in mind, shipping marijuana outside Oregon is still federal crime.

"This bill is an attempt to remedy the rampant overproduction and trafficking of marijuana outside of Oregon," Williams said.

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