Cannabis activists and industry members have long been warning Oregon legislators, policy makers and regulators about the dangers of over-regulation, but, too often, such warnings seem to have fallen on deaf ears. The cost of licensees was increased about four times more than what voters approved when passing Measure 91; legislators made it easier for cities and counties to ban marijuana businesses (and many localities obliged); some cities, Portland, most notably, have instituted their own, mostly duplicative, regulations; and the new lab testing requirements have proven burdensome and too cost-prohibitive for many small businesses. Not surprisingly, many cannabis growers are going underground to the unregulated market instead of losing their livelihoods.
The Willamette Week reports:
People are obviously not enthusiastic to talk about this on the record. But that’s what I’ve heard from sources such as Richard Walling, a representative of Eugene’s Iron Labs, which tests cannabis. He says his company “hasn’t heard from many medical customers that we worked with last year.”
The ones it has heard from admit they can’t afford to keep up their medical licenses anymore. Besides the tripling costs to get a crop tested for sale to a dispensary, the Oregon Health Authority has enforced new $200 “annual grow site fees,” and medical growers are quickly facing stiffer competition as most shops obtain recreational licenses and start buying exclusively from recreationally licensed growers.
To a small farm, where the sale of 1 pound might determine whether you can pay your electrical bill next month, going underground is more comfortable than the risk of failing as a legal operation. For many, being in the system is the scary and new part. Selling illegally is a return to the good ol’ days.
Oregon Measure 91, passed by 56% of voters, stipulated that the new legalization law wouldn’t impact the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP). While OMMP regulations were going to be implemented sometime, the state would have been better off waiting until the recreational system was fully implemented. Unfortunately, Governor Kate Brown pushed prematurely for more strict OMMP regulations and Senator Ginny Burdick was very happy to oblige, laughably stating that, ”There are people now who are making millions off the medical market. And when it becomes impossible to divert the product so easily, that is going to cut into some people’s profits.”
By moving too fast with medical regulations and implementing overly burdensome regulations overall, Oregon politicians have overridden the will of the voters and unnecessarily hurt patients and the entire cannabis industry. While jobs will still be created and millions in tax dollars will still be generated, the state could have done a much better job. Regulation is much better than prohibition, but over-regulation is like prohibition-lite and illegal marketeers thank politicians for taking them back “to the good ol’ days.”