Op Ed: Oregon Legislature ‘Kicking Marijuana Legislation Down The Road’
By Anthony Taylor
March 27, 2019 – Today we are a few days away from deadlines for bills in Oregon’s Legislature. If a bill has not had a hearing by Friday, the bill will die in committee. If it has had a hearing but not a work session, then a work session must be held by April 9th.
Isn’t this fun! And folks are scrambling to make sure their bill is heard.
This, the 80th Legislative Session, started early to ensure session will hit Sine Die before July 1. It also began with six new committees in the House and condensed schedules and hearing times, – House Health Care was reduced from 2 hours per meeting three days a week, to 1¾ hours each meeting, twice a week.
The House Health Care Committee suffered a setback when Chair, Rep. Mitch Greenlick, (D, Dist. 33), was removed and Rep. Andrea Salinas, D, Dist. 38, was tapped to replace him. Coupled with the reduced meeting schedule this shifted the committee from one Chair’s agenda to another.
At this halfway point, of the nearly 40 bills dealing with marijuana/cannabis, nearly all of them will die in committee this week and next and those left, most will have a tough go!
With all the support given cannabis since 2015 and the progress made in establishing the regulatory structure and system for adult-use, one would think it would be an easy go this session for most cannabis bills, get a few things done for patients and fix a couple of OLCC problems. But, the primary stumbling block this session, has been the Measure 91 Committee.
What? You heard right folks, The Measure 91 Committee.
This is the first full session the assembly has been without the 91 Committee and it is evident the body is struggling, – and cannabis will suffer. The 2018 short session was also, for the first time, without the 91 Committee and ended five days before the deadline with the only bill that passed relating to cannabis was SB 1544 and it only made it to the Governor’s desk because it had money set aside for law enforcement. So it doesn’t really count.
But 2019 was met with a slew of bills. Nearly 40 to be less than exact. The Governor’s office has introduced a bill to allow OLCC to stop issuing production licenses if they determine the inventory is out-pacing consumption. Another allows the Department of Revenue to reimburse the Water Resources Board and the departments of Agriculture and Energy for unexpected expenses incurred for cannabis regulation over the last biennium.
But the bill to allow OMMP growers to transfer to any patient or to expand the list of health care professionals who can sign for a patient card never made the cut. Creating life-time cards for life-time conditions, all fell by the wayside. Social consumption, exports, drug testing for lawful substances? Maybe. Transplants and expanding the list of those that can sign for a patient card? Not likely.
So what happened?
The extra committees and the many bills relating to cannabis overwhelmed House committees. Bills were scattered across the building in six different committee with subsequent referrals into three other committees and no one knew what to do. Each committee faced an unexpected and substantial learning curve.
Imagine the unsuspecting committee faced with a dozen cannabis bills with no experience at all with cannabis. Former members of the 91 Committee are gone or scatted like the bills across the building. No real history among committee members with the discussions that occurred in front of and in work group around issues and bills before the 91 Committee. No understanding of how the medical program works or the danger its registrants are facing. No clue about how OLCC works and how much product is actually in inventory and little experience or understanding of the nuances we have all come to understand.
Here’s what happened next.
The House Economic Development Committee ended up with the major portion of the ‘marijuana’ bills with other bills before both House and Senate Health Care and Judiciary committees, Senate Business and General Government, House Business and Labor, Revenue, and Ways and Means. Economic Development started with an informational hearing, empaneling Andre Ourso, OHA, and four representatives from OLCC including Director Marks. At this hearing the committee was brought up to speed on the ‘Marijuana System’ with little mention of the OMMP.
A subsequent hearing for industry stakeholders and patient representatives was held a month later but the real story here is every committee that had cannabis bills before it knew little about cannabis and had to be educated. In two-minute blips. Committee members did not know who to trust or who to turn to for answers and then this happened in the building. For instance, House Business and Labor has 8 bills up for a public hearing and 7 bills up for a work session. 15 bills in 105 minutes. 7 minutes per bill.
Members of both chambers so accustomed to the 91 Committee sending them cannabis legislation year after year with do-pass recommendations and a promise of the Governor’s signature, are visibly overwhelmed. Because of this most members have never had to learn anything about ‘marijuana’ and when faced with the job of sorting through all the bills and trying to understand them what was before them with little sense of what had come before and the conversations that led to the development of the current state of regulation.
So, in a tumultuous session where committees have been shuffled and leadership is dealing with an overhanging hostile workplace complaint, the 80th Legislative Assembly is kicking marijuana legislation down the road and most of the cannabis bills are dead like that last joint smoldering in the ashtray.
– Anthony Taylor is the President of Compassionate Oregon and has unique access and insights into Oregon’s lawmaking process, much of which takes place in the Capitol building, near the corners of Church and State streets in Salem. Everything shared here are personal opinions and not in his official capacity as President of Compassionate Oregon or the Oregon Cannabis Commission, on which Anthony now serves as Vice-Chair.