Summit panel on cannabis regulation tackles mounting challenges for regulators

Caleb Diehl
Vendors at a recent Portland cannabis conference

Now that initial enthusiasm over legal cannabis has subsided, the market appears to be a mess.

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Oregon is swimming in a giant pool of excess weed, and there are almost no outlets for selling it legally. Overproduction has funneled Oregon weed into the black market and led to illegal exports to 37 states.

Despite rampant overproduction, applications for marijuana licenses continue to flood into the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

During yesterday’s Coastal Caucus Economic Summit, Jeff Rhoades, the governor’s cannabis policy advisor, said the agency can’t withhold licenses based on market saturation.

Regulators are looking for other ways to stem the tide. In the 2019 legislative session, Rhoades said, a moratorium or market caps could be on the table.

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Billy Williams, U.S. Attorney for Oregon, painted a grim picture of what he sees as the state’s failed experiment with legal weed: Buyers with Idaho plates line up at Huntington retailers to smuggle product across the border, entrepreneurs write to him about losing their life savings in the volatile market and impaired drivers wreak havoc.

“It’s time to wake up,” he told the audience. “Southwest Oregon is a mess because they don’t have the money to deal with the law enforcement issues. The nuisance is ridiculous.” 

“There are many individuals,” Rhoades said, “who feel the regulation we require now is already putting them out of business.”

Despite the $80 million the state has recorded in marijuana tax revenue, not enough goes to regulation, said Rob Bovett, legal counsel for the association of Oregon Counties. The OLCC needs more officials to follow-up on violations.

Law enforcement agencies also lack the resources to confront the black market. In rural areas, officers must choose 911 calls over shutting down illegal marijuana farms.

“We’re nowhere near close,” Bovett said, “to funding the regulation and enforcement we need in Oregon right now.”

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