What Canada could learn from Oregon’s approach to regulating legal marijuana

October 27, 2015 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ News

As Canada begins the long conversation of how to regulate legal marijuana for adult use in Canada, various US states like Colorado or Washington often get mentioned as templates to follow or learn from. One not mentioned quite as often is Oregon, who also recently regulated legal marijuana for adult recreational use after over a decade of regulating legal marijuana for medical purposes.

In 2014, Oregon voters passed Measure 91, legalizing limited recreational use, possession and cultivation of cannabis “based on regulation and taxation to be determined by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission”. Under the new law, as of July 1 of this year, adults 21 years or older can be in possession of up to 28 grams on their person (1 ounce), keep up to eight ounces at home and grow up to four plants per household. On October 1 of this year, Oregon officially made recreational sales legal and utilized its existing regulated medical dispensaries as retail points for non-medical adult use until they can begin permitting new recreational stores in early 2016. Existing medical dispensaries are allowed to apply, as well as new players.

In many ways, Oregon represents another excellent template for Canada learn from. Legalizing cannabis for medical purposes in 1998, and refining its regulatory process over the years to eventually regulate cannabis dispensaries, Oregon has been able to begin to smoothly and rapidly transition into a recreational legalization scheme by passing the torch to a large handful of registered medical dispensaries while the state works to process applications for brand new adult-use stores.

While some US states like Washington took the approach of legalizing and regulating recreational cannabis by essentially starting from scratch and largely disregarding and sidelining existing medical dispensaries (which the state arguably under-regulated and ignored), states like Oregon and Colorado took a more proactive approach by managing the proliferation of dispensaries in their jurisdiction. Rather than ignoring them or sweeping them under the rug, both these states took proactive measures to bring them under regulatory control. This process of regulating retail medical dispensaries allowed both these states to transition existing, known players with a working understanding of the industry into their newly legalized adult use regime.

Whereas Colorado gave the recreational retail market control to a handful of dispensaries for a full year prior to allowing new applicants to enter the market, Oregon has taken an even more streamlined approach. While existing registered medical dispensaries are being used in the short term to provide retail access for adults to purchase cannabis, state law dictates that regulators must not ‘unreasonably delay‘ new applications, with industry experts in the state saying they expect that to be 60-90 days, on average. The state begins accepting applications in early January 2016 and dispensaries who choose to sell recreational cannabis in the interim will be allowed to do so through until the end of 2016, ensuring no gap in the market like Washington State has seen.

Contrast this with the current licensing process for licensed producers of cannabis for medical purposes in Canada under the current MMPR regime, which has seen hundreds of applicants each invest millions only to languish in a purgatory for well over a year. Although there are reports this process may become streamlined under the new Liberal leadership, this still remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, some Canadian municipalities have taken the steps of beginning this process on their own. The city of Vancouver, BC’s approach to regulating ‘marijuana-related business’ in its jurisdiction has been understandable much faster than the MMPR, with 11 of the 176 applicant dispensaries recently announced as having passed the first of a three stage approval process that is expected to be completed some time in early spring of 2016. The city began this process earlier this summer. The City of Victoria BC. This application process is expected to be complete for some of their first applicants by early 2016.

While the Liberals campaigned on legalizing marijuana in Canada, how they expect to do this remains unknown, at least publicly. How they hope to manage the cultivation and sale of commercial cannabis remains to be seen. Will cities like Vancouver and Victoria’s efforts to regulate medical cannabis dispensaries help these efforts by creating an existing template, or will the the Federal and Provincial governments seek to create a new template? Will some provinces have a government monopoly like the LCBO, while others like British Columbia utilize a more independent operator approach being currently cultivated via municipal regulations?

Ideally, Canada can learn from outside jurisdictions, while working with industry leaders, advocates, and activists here in Canada to establish a regime which is neither too cumbersome and plagued by the red tape of the MMPR, nor too unmanaged to ever establish a functional commercial industry.

Featured image: Inside MedPotNow in Vancouver, BC, one of the 11 recently announced to have passed the first staged of the city’s new licensing process

The post What Canada could learn from Oregon’s approach to regulating legal marijuana appeared first on Lift Cannabis News Magazine.

Lift Cannabis News Magazine