Mayor-Elect Ted Wheeler Has the Votes to Roll Back Regulations on Portland's Weed Shops

The cannabis industry has argued that Portland tied them in red tape.

Farma (Kyle Key)

Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler, who officially takes office today, has promised to roll back Portland's cannabis regulations.

He has the votes to do that.

Three of the four city commissioners who'll serve alongside him favor major changes to the policy. (The fourth, Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who oversees the marijuana program at the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, was out of the country this week and did not respond to a request for comment.)

But Wheeler still hasn't said whether he'll eliminate city marijuana rules and fees—or just scale them back. And he's offered mixed messages on whether the marijuana program will stay at ONI, a bureau overwhelmed by unrelated tasks.

Related: The Office of Neighborhood Involvement is cluttered with the city's "misfit toys."

In an interview last week with WW, Wheeler said he favored reducing the fees and rules City Hall currently imposes on cannabis.

Wheeler's office says the mayor-elect will reduce the city's marijuana bureaucracy so it won't duplicate state rules and fees.

"The state has set up a regulatory structure," Wheeler's spokesman, Michael Cox on Dec. 30 in response to questions asking for more details on the proposal. "They're making it work. Reinventing it at the local level is redundant and confusing."

Portland's cannabis businesses have been complaining about the bureaucratic red tape they've faced at the city after the voters approved legal weed.

Business owners have argued that the city duplicated the state's licensing process, charged them double what businesses in other cities pay—and have moved slowly in issuing permits.

Related: Portland City Hall wrapped cannabis businesses in too much red tape.

Dec. 31 was the statewide deadline for medical marijuana businesses to get a Oregon Liquor Control Commission license to sell pot in the recreational market.

As of Friday, OLCC had licensed 73 Portland retail businesses, while the city's Office of Neighborhood Involvement had approved just 21 retail businesses, as of Monday. (ONI did not have updated figures as of Friday.)

Cox didn't yet have answer on whether Wheeler would try to eliminate all the city's rules and fees, leaving those regulations the OLCC.

But Cox and Wheeler's statements suggest the city is following the lead of Eugene, where regulators took a light touch.

Fritz's chief of staff, Tim Crail, told WW that Fritz was out of town and had not heard from the mayor about his plans.

"I will say only that we have not had a conversation with the mayor-elect about his opinions on marijuana and the best path forward for the marijuana program," he emailed on Dec. 27.

It's also unclear whether Fritz will still oversee the city's marijuana office.

Wheeler, during his pop-quiz-style questions last week, also said marijuana did not belong "under the purview of the Office of Neighborhood Involvement."

But Cox backtracked on that answer this week, noting there's been "no discussion internally" about swapping around which bureau has oversight.

Wheeler's desire to scale back city marijuana rules is popular among other City Commissioners. Dan Saltzman, who opposed the City Council resolution to regulate marijuana in the first place, says he's waiting to see what gets proposed.

"I hope the program goes away," he says. "I haven't supported it from the outset. I would be thrilled if there was a majority that wanted to introduce something in council."

Marshall Runkel, chief of staff for Commissioner-elect Chloe Eudaly, says simply, "We're supportive of the mayor's approach."

Commissioner Nick Fish says after a careful look at the program he wants to scale it back, calling cannabis an "emerging craft industry."

"We overregulated the industry," he says.

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