By HILLARY BORRUD
SALEM — Oregon’s nascent legal recreational marijuana industry has hired a battery of lobbyists to influence the shape of the state’s regulatory scheme.
Lawmakers and state regulators are both working to establish Oregon’s new legal recreational pot system under Measure 91, which voters passed in November. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission is writing rules to implement the new law, and a legislative joint committee is considering bills that range from technical fixes sought by regulators to major changes to Measure 91.
Businesses and cannabis industry associations hired nearly a dozen lobbyists, and lobbyists for local governments are also involved.
The joint legislative committee working to implement Measure 91 is just getting started, with sessions such as a Wednesday night informational hearing on marijuana processing and packaging, labeling and potency of edible and topical products. Eleven bills are currently assigned to the committee.
Many groups are just starting to spend and report money this year, although several — Grow PAC, Oregon SunGrown Growers Guild, Phylos Bioscience, Compassionate Oregon and the Oregon Cannabis Business Council — had already retained lobbyists in 2014.
Grow PAC stands out for its spending on lobbyists and campaign contributions. The political action committee reported raising $52,0000 since the November election and spending $42,000, according to state campaign finance data. Grow PAC spent most of that money on lobbyists, and contributions to Democratic leadership campaign committees and the leaders’ own committees.
The Oregon cannabis industry lobby currently includes:
• Geoff Sugerman, Molly McGrew and Alan Tresidder, Grow PAC
• Gary Oxley, New Approach Oregon which campaigned for Measure 91
• Niki Terzieff for the Oregon Cannabis Business Council
• Jonathan Manton, Oregon SunGrown Growers Guild and PAC
• Darlene Hooley and Lisa Naito, Phylos Bioscience lab in Portland
• Anthony Taylor, medical cannabis PAC Compassionate Oregon, Oregon Cannabis Industry Association
• Marshall Coba, Oregonians for Better Health, a nonprofit membership association for the medical pot industry
• Mary Botkin and Judi Mehrens, Oregon Infused Topical Association
• Beth Cook, United Food & Commercial Workers Local 555
Anthony Johnson, executive director of New Approach, said the group is working to make sure lawmakers and regulators follow the will of the voters who passed Measure 91.
“Until it’s implemented, we don’t know what changes need to be made,” Johnson said of the law.
A top concern for lobbyists who represent the medical marijuana industry is fending off efforts to consolidate Oregon’s medical marijuana and recreational marijuana programs. Currently, the Oregon Health Authority oversees the medical program and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission will regulate the new recreational system.
“Oregon has such a great opportunity to be leader in medical marijuana,” Coba said. He added that keeping the current medical program is crucial to that success.
Taylor said a priority for Compassionate Oregon is HB 2821, which would expand the list of conditions that qualify people to participate in the medical marijuana program. The bill would also prohibit physicians from refusing to dispense or prescribe medications to a patient based on that person’s status as a medical marijuana patient, and it would provide legal protections for people who possess pot and are in the process of applying to the Oregon medical marijuana program.
Manton said members of the SunGrown Growers Guild also want to preserve the existing medical marijuana system.
“The issues that the SunGrown Growers Guild are really concerned about is protecting the interests of patients first and foremost, and then also small, rural family farmers who are growing medicine,” Manton said. Members of the guild grow cannabis outdoors.
Sugerman said Grow PAC represents cannabis businesses across the state, including processors, indoor and outdoor growers, medical dispensary operators and people who want to participate in the new recreational system. Grow PAC would like the state to set up a single system to issue licenses to growers, processors and other businesses, while at the same time maintaining aspects of the existing medical system such as the ability for patients to work directly with growers.
Terzieff said her client, the Oregon Cannabis Business Council, is an industry association that represents growers, marijuana testing labs, processors and dispensaries. One of the group’s primary goals is to maintain Oregon’s medical marijuana cardholder system, Terzieff said.
Botkin said the Oregon Infused Topical Association includes about 10 businesses that produce products such as oils people can apply to treat skin conditions such as eczema and pain from arthritis and other conditions.
Currently, marijuana products can only be sold at medical dispensaries and, starting sometime in 2016, at recreational pot stores. Producers of topical products want the state to allow them to sell the items elsewhere, such as at farmer’s markets. “The process of producing topicals, it takes out all of the hallucinogenics,” Botkin said.
UFCW Local 555 is also paying attention to cannabis legislation, because the union is working to organize employees in pot retail stores, said Botkin, who also represents another union, AFSCME.
Industry groups in flux
Just as Oregon’s marijuana laws and regulations are changing rapidly, so are the groups that represent the industry. The Oregon Cannabis Industry Association is one group undergoing changes. Taylor took over as interim director in December, after then-executive director and chief Measure 91 sponsor Anthony Johnson resigned.
“I have been asked to kind of step in, and assess the viability of the Oregon Cannabis Industry Association and its membership and see if we really want to keep going with that organization,” Taylor said recently. “It just got a little side tracked with its mission during the campaign.”
Taylor said the cannabis industry needs a strong association similar to the Oregon Association of Nurseries, and he hopes OCIA can fill that void.
“Many of us that have been at this along time have wished there was a statewide organization that everybody could call to get an answer for stuff,” Taylor said.
Regulators already friendly with industry
The Oregon marijuana industry already has a close relationship with state regulators and other officials, including pot czar Tom Burns.
In December, the Oregon Cannabis Industry Association held its “next step fundraiser” at the Slide Inn in southeast Portland. For $40, attendees could rub elbows with “special guests” including Tom Burns, at the time Oregon’s top medical marijuana regulator and now the director of marijuana programs for the OLCC, and several pot industry representatives.
Karynn Fish, a spokeswoman for the OLCC, noted that Burns did not work for the OLCC at the time of the fundraiser.
“We get invited to events all the time,” Fish said. “We’re still figuring out as an agency what our approach will be.”
can someone give me a brief summery of what is happening with the senate bill that is in the house now and the possibilities of the senate bill passing by the house