Oregon Medical Marijuana Dispensary Regulation Bill Heads to Governor

Oregon Medical Marijuana Dispensary Regulation Bill Heads to Governor

SALEM, OR —  A bill that would expand the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program to include licencing and regulating medical marijuana dispensaries is heading to the desk of Governor John Kitzhaber (D) after House members concurred Saturday with Senate amendments to the bill.

The Oregon Senate voted Wednesday to approve House Bill 3460, which was approved by the House in June.  Because of some changes made to the bill by a Senate committee, the House met Saturday to approve those changes.

The bill will now be sent to Gov. Kitzhaber, who is expected to sign the legislation into law.  Earlier last week, Gov. Kitzhaber gave final approval to two bills that reduce marijuana penalties for in the state.

Medical marijuana dispensaries already exist in Oregon, but are operating in a legal grey area.  The Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (OMMA) allows patients to grow their own medicine or have someone else to it for them, but does not provide for — or prohibit — medical marijuana dispensaries from operating.

This has led to varied differences in toleration of the dispensaries based on the attitudes of local officials.  In some areas of the state, such as Multnomah County, which includes the city of Portland, dispensaries have been largely tolerated.  But providers have been raided in less tolerant areas of the state, with operators  facing prosecution in Jackson, Lane, Washington, and Malheur counties.

The proposed bill, House Bill 3460, aims to change that by directing the Oregon Health Authority, who oversees the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, to establish a registration system for medical marijuana facilities.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Peter Buckley and Sen. Floyd Prozanski, both Democrats, and has received endorsements from state Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, the League of Oregon Cities and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer.

Under the bill, dispensaries would be required to seek a license from the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program similar to the license that patients and registered growers are required to obtain under current law. Dispensary operators would have to pass criminal background checks, log the amount of marijuana coming into their businesses, and verify that it is being grown by state-registered growers.

The facilities also would have to comply with regulations for pesticides, mold and mildew testing, which will help ensure medication isn’t contaminated.

Each medical marijuana facility would pay a registration fee of $4,000, according to the bill’s fiscal note. If an estimated 225 facilities register, the state would receive about $900,000 in the next two years. Revenue from the fees would help offset the cost of creating and running a new registration system.

Two significant changes were made to the bill last week by the Senate Committee on Rules following concerns voiced from the Oregon District Attorneys Association, who changed their position on the bill from “opposed” to “neutral” after the changes were made.

In the original bill, anyone with two or more prior convictions for distribution or manufacturing a controlled substance in the state of Oregon would be prohibited from operating a dispensary. Under the changes made Saturday, the restrictions were expanded to apply to anyone with one prior conviction, regardless of where that conviction took place.

The other significant change was the elimination of a provision included in the original bill that limited the criminal liability of existing medical marijuana dispensaries in the state if they are prosecuted before the new law takes effect.

Once signed by the Governor, the Oregon Health Authority, which oversees the state’s medical marijuana program, has until March 2014 to draft rules on security, marijuana testing and other regulatory issues for the dispensaries.