Weed War II

Legal pot is sparking new battles in unlikely places.

Justice? Sure. But no peace.

Oregon's long war against pot prohibition ends today. Voters legalized marijuana last November by voting for Measure 91, but we're just starting the skirmishes over what legal weed will look like.

Salem legislators have settled a number of turf battles: Whether the labs that test weed's potency have to answer to anybody (yes), whether out-of-state businesses can plant stakes here (no, but we'll take their filthy money as an investment), and whether medical marijuana growers can keep growing unlimited gardens (not a chance).

The Legislature also managed—thanks to one dogged Republican from a town you've never visited—to provide a place for you to actually buy some weed. Sen. Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day) agitated a House-Senate committee into letting medical dispensaries sell any adult a quarter-ounce of pot starting Oct. 1.

But other questions are still up in the air.

1. Recreational Weed vs. Medical Weed

Letting medical pot dispensaries sell buds to everybody in October is only a temporary solution. In 2016, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission will start licensing recreational pot stores. Medical dispensary owners will be able to “flip” their locations into recreational outlets—but only if they agree to make every customer, including medical patients, pay a 17 percent sales tax. 

"It's a really hard decision," says Meghan Walstatter of Pure Green Gardens, which is leaning recreational. "One of the things we've talked about is how to subsidize that tax on patients ourselves. Then we could still do both."

2. Lawmakers vs.  Dabs and Edibles

When you head to a dispensary in October to buy a quarter-ounce of nugs, you'll get no brownies as an impulse buy. No cannabis ice cream. No wax or shatter.

The Legislature wants the OLCC to tighten the screws on purity- and potency-testing for edibles before it lets the public start Maureen Dowd-ing some candy. And regulators will be fretful about dabs, the super-concentrated hash oil with THC levels that crest above 70 percent.

That delay on dabs could have the unintended consequence of turning your stupider neighbors into bootleggers of volatile hash oil. "It doesn't track," says Matthew Goldberg, a Lake Oswego lawyer advising pot businesses. "If you push people to make their own concentrates, they're going to blow themselves up."

3. Pot vs. Hemp

Weed was supposed to walk hand-in-hand into legality with its less-intoxicating, more-practical cousin, hemp. Hell, the official title of Measure 91 is the "Marijuana and Industrial Hemp Act."

But now the state's fiercest weed advocates—the outdoor growers of Southern Oregon—want hemp farms halted. That's because hemp, like a lot of Southern cousins, wants to breed.

The pot growers' fear is that a stiff breeze could cause the new hemp crops to cross-pollinate with marijuana plants, lowering the THC content of established strains.

Last month, state lawmakers put hemp in a timeout, halting the planting of crops until 2017.

"The irony of the situation is that people who have been fighting for the end of cannabis prohibition have also been big supporters of hemp," says Amy Margolis, a lawyer for Portland-area pot growers. "But it turns out we have not figured out how to make them coexist. And that's going to take some serious work."

4. Washington  vs.  Oregon

The big losers in Oregon's decision to let all adults buy weed in October? Pot stores in Vancouver, Wash.

Those four stores have the most sales in the state—even though Oregonians aren't technically allowed to fetch it across state lines. (Wink, wink.) But Oregon pot is going to be different: It'll be half the price—estimated at $9 a gram on average, compared to $20 in Vancouver. That's thanks to lower state taxes.

Sen. Ginny Burdick (D-Portland) says the Oregon discount is intentional. "The real price war is between us and the black market," she says. "How Washington fits in is far less important."

But it's important to Washington, whose lawmakers are crafting legislation to cut pot taxes. Begin, America's first weed-price border war!

5. Oregon vs. Eastern Oregon

Remember Ted Ferrioli? He also offered a sop to the red-state counties of Eastern Oregon: a change to Measure 91 that would allow city councils and county boards to ban pot stores in any place where 55 percent of voters rejected legalization.

No county east of the Cascades voted for legal weed. (Clarification: Deschutes County, which lies along the eastern side of the Cascade range, voted yes.) Over the coming months, politicians in Eastern Oregon will, one by one, turn their counties "dry"—creating a second state that cannabis advocate Russ Belville has satirically dubbed "West Idaho."

That means people who want to smoke in the desert will need to travel—or get creative. One possibility? Medical marijuana delivery fleets, trucking Portland pot to the sticks.

“There will be nothing out there,” says Goldberg. “You could potentially see an increase in patients in Eastern Oregon, if that becomes the easiest way to get it. That whole deal is very weird.” 

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