A public records request by the Salem, OR-based Statesman Journal bore interesting fruit recently in the form of a report by the Oregon Cannabis Commission (OCC) recommending that a single agency regulate cannabis in Oregon. Currently, at least three Oregon regulatory agencies have some degree of oversight affecting the cannabis industry. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission oversees the recreational cannabis market. The Oregon Health Authority regulates the medical marijuana program. The Oregon Department of Agriculture administers the agricultural industry generally and certain food safety programs (as well as the industrial hemp program), which brings it into contact with many producers and processors of cannabis. The OCC, created in 2017 by statutory mandate to make recommendations about the future oversight of cannabis in Oregon, is considering whether Oregon is in need of “a unified and consistent vision on cannabis regulation.”
Some degree of regulatory overlap is likely unavoidable when it comes to cannabis. Cannabis sits in an unusual position in Oregon in that it is either a regulated recreational substance, a quasi-prescription drug, or a statutorily-protected agricultural crop, depending on the context. Indeed, among the states with both medical and adult-use cannabis, Oregon isn’t an outlier. Alaska, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine use separate agencies to regulate medical and recreational cannabis, in addition to whichever agencies’ mandates oversee agriculture and food safety (Vermont and Michigan have not yet finalized adult-use regulations).
Washington is the only state with established medical and adult use marijuana programs that has fully consolidated regulation under a single agency, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (formerly the Washington State Liquor Control Board – Washington has found efficiencies in both regulating marijuana and not reordering stationary). This approach has not been withoutcontroversy. Oregon itself has seen similar disputes, some quite recently, as the state’s crowded field of cannabis regulators attempts to rein in the black market trade in Oregon-made marijuana. Striking a balance between patients’ access to medicine, a well-regulated adult use market, and increasing federal scrutiny will likely be an active experiment for years to come.
If the OCC’s draft recommendations are finalized, there’s no certainty as to what form a single Oregon cannabis regulatory agency would take. Extensive statutory changes would be necessary, followed by rule making and transition periods, so it is unlikely that Oregon will see anything more than incremental changes for some years. Even then, cannabis businesses will continue to be overseen by a whole alphabet’s worth of acronyms depending on their activities as employers, taxpayers, farmers, manufacturers, etc. The OCC was supposed to meet on November 27 to discuss and vote on recommendations, but that meeting has been pushed out until at least mid-December. We will post updates as new information becomes available.