From the Trenches, By John Sajo
Yesterday I participated in an OLCC Rules Advisory Committee on some of the recent legislative changes to Oregon's marijuana laws. SB 1057 and HB 2198 both made many changes affecting medical and recreational marijuana and the OLCC was seeking input on how to draft the new rules.
Many issues were discussed
The "Bump Up"
This refers to a program the Legislature created to give OLCC producers an incentive to donate cannabis to patients. Under the plan OLCC farmers could grow 10% more canopy but must give away 75% of what is produced in that extra canopy to patients. They could sell the remaining 25% to OLCC stores. OLCC producers who choose to participate must register with the OLCC, file a plan indicating how the medical canopy and the recreational canopy will be kept separate and test cannabis prior to donating it to patients. All transfers to patients must be tracked via the METRC system.
The idea behind this is a good one, allow OLCC growers to donate to patients, but like most marijuana regulation it is way more complicated than necessary. This is the second attempt at rules for this program. An earlier version stalled because only two farms applied and neither completed an application. The big problem is that current OLCC rules do not allow OLCC farms to just donate to patients out of their already approved canopy. As long as all the transactions are tracked, I don't see what the problem is. OLCC staff pointed out that there is a work around that where an OLCC grower could transfer cannabis to a store for free and the store could donate to a patient. Nothing like putting a completely unnecessary step between a patient and their medicine. I pointed out that some producers would probably donate directly to patients out of what they already produce, as long as it was simple. Many producers will be sitting on inventory they can't sell before it gets too old which will happen more and more as the number of producers continues to increase. Giving producers added incentives to be charitable is great but making the program simple enough to work is even more important. I think what is good about this program is that it acknowledges that there are lots of qualified patients who can't afford to buy marijuana and programs are needed to assist them, particularly since many have been adversely affected by changes to the law that allowed their growers to become much bigger, for profit, farms but don't allow them to donate to the patients they provided for when they were medical marijuana producers under the OMMP.
The most complete solution is to just let any OLCC producer donate to as many patients as they choose. Tracking these transactions should address any concerns about diversion.
Patient access to processors
For several years, medical growers like myself have been able to have extracts and concentrates made by licensed producers and provide them to our patients. Changes to the laws over the last few years have pushed most processors into regulation by the OLCC and do not allow OMMP growers to transfer cannabis there for processing. Legislative changes in the last session allow patients to take marijuana directly to OLCC processors to have oil or other products made. Unfortunately it appears that the rules will make this so expensive that it just won't work. The problem is that growers would typically take in much larger batches, often ten pounds or more. Patients, unfortunately can only legally possess 24 ounces and so the new proposed rules limit patient transfers to processors to 24 ounces. The problem is that it is not economical for processors to do such small runs and testing on a batch that small will make the cost to the patient unaffordable. The simple solution is to allow growers, who can possess 72 pounds/patient to do the processing. This will likely take a legislative fix and I urge people to support this. This issue is very important. More and more patients are finding medical benefits in using concentrates and extracts. I personally had two patients beat cancer this year with the help of high THC cannabis oil. Licensed processors are probably safer than unlicensed ones and so making it impossible for patients to have access to licensed processors is a big mistake that will drive people to unregulated products. I hope we can fix this.
OMMP growers selling to OLCC
HB 2198 included provisions allowing medical growers to sell a limited amount into the OLCC system. Based on fear of competition from some OLCC producers medical growers will be limited to selling 20 pounds annually and can only sell to wholesalers or processors. The 20 pound limit applies to growsites not growers, so a farm that has 4 growers who each have to now pay $200 grower fee and $480 tracking fee can still only sell 20 pounds. OMMP farms now have a clear incentive to reduce the number of patients who register as their own grower because that will result in thousands of dollars in extra fees. Allowing OMMP growers access to the legal OLCC market is essential to the goal of reducing alternative markets. Limiting this to 20 pounds per growsite makes this a step in the right direction but a much smaller step. The OLCC also has the authority to further limit this if the OLCC system is oversupplied and one participant in the meeting encouraged the OLCC to be ready to shut off the spigot from OMMP farms. I pointed out (again) that shutting out existing OMMP farms while not limiting new OLCC farms, sometimes funded by out of state investors, is a terrible system that will hurt small farmers that take care of patients.
OMMP grower tracking
Any OMMP grower of more than 12 plants or any farm where a grower is designated or any farm where a patient who doesn't live there grows, will now be tracked through the OLCC METRC system. Inspections would be by OLCC but any compliance issues will be handled by OMMP. Growers will have to track every transfer to patients and rules limit giving any patient more that 3 pounds annually. People should comment to the OLCC that statutes limit patient possession to 24 ounces at a time but there is no annual limit.
The statutes and rules around medical marijuana continue to evolve. I encourage everyone to get involved and continue to fight for safe affordable convenient access to patients that can benefit from medical cannabis.