By Ed Medina, Jr.
As we approach the end of 2017, it seems that we are rapidly approaching the end of any form of business opportunity that once existed under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP). As of December 1, 2017, growers, processors, and dispensaries that are licensed or registered under the OHA had to decide whether to stay a medical operation and report to the OLCC, or go recreational. We knew this day would come, and so it has.
One thing that may surprise many Oregonians is that some areas of our state are still strictly medical, and do not have the choice to go rec. These are the opt-out counties and cities—reas where there are no choices. Areas that are watching as the dreams once held by the small craft growers and those licensed under a now defunct program die a slow and painful death.
Under HB 3400, passed shortly after the passage of Measure 91, cities and counties that voted more than 55% against measure 91 were given the choice to not participate in the Oregon recreational market. Most of Eastern Oregon made that choice, including our county, Klamath County. But The state didn’t plan on or anticipate a few things. One was the fact that there were several medical-only dispensaries in these areas, and more than a few growers.
So, now, after everyone has been forced to decide to go rec or basically go home, what is to happen to us in these areas? What is to happen to the thousands of patients who have now lost their growers, who decided to grow 12 plants or under to avoid the OLCC reporting? Or the growers who are now going rec, and have abandoned their patients? What happens now to the dispensaries that are the only resource for many patients in outlying areas?
As the owner of what will most likely be the last remaining medical-only dispensary in the state of Oregon, I can tell you, the consequences of this are devastating to many, many people. Let’s step back a bit and remember what it was like just a few short years ago….
In 2014 the state allowed medical dispensaries to open to solve a major problem with the OMMP: diversion. Beginning in 1998 medical growers were expected to provide to patients free of charge and, of course, not sell their excess. Well, as any rational human could see, the excess was going places it shouldn’t. So, in 2014, the state legislature passed laws allowing medical-only dispensaries licensed under the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to exist. It worked beautifully. Growers had a legal outlet for their excess. People making cannabis products were able to expand their operations and sell their goods to the dispensaries. Businesses were being built. People were able to take pride in their skills that had forever been a secret. People were entering the legal market day by day. We watched it all. I was buying products and putting them in the hands of patients who needed them. Patients had choices and a selection of products to help with their health conditions, and we were seeing miraculous results! And then measure 91 and the subsequent opt-out happened. As costs and requirements to participate in the program grew, many people started to go back to the old ways. They stopped coming to us to sell their products. Where did they go? Yeah. I think we all know.
Then OLCC recreational licensing started. With that, many of the successful medical producers switched. Just poof! Gone from us on the medical side. And that has continued until now; we have three processors to choose from. And two of them are just waiting on their OLCC license, and then they will be gone also. So, we have nothing to sell. No RSO, no edibles, no concentrates, no extracts. Nothing but raw flower. Because we are the only store, rec or med, within a 70+ mile radius, we are still able to keep the doors open. Barely. I once had nine people on our payroll, and that was expanding. Now I am down to two, plus myself. And now that growers have been forced to report to OLCC, we are losing them just as fast as we lost the processors.
As the glut of rec flower causes pain for all the new rec companies, we on the medical side soon won’t have any left. So, to the rescue comes the newly formed Oregon Cannabis Commission. What is there left to advise on? Besides the patients who are growing for themselves, there will soon be nothing left of the medical program. The only thing an OMMP card will be good for is to avoid tax at a rec store, possess more, and grow a few more plants. The 20 pounds growers are allowed to sell to rec processors or wholesalers will never cover the costs of medical growers. Not to mention the rec growers will lobby against that as soon as possible. Hell, there is too much rec flower now without the med growers. Who is going to want additional competition? Not a sound business move. But I am not here to discuss the disaster that is the Oregon rec program; I am here to remember and pay tribute to the once thriving OMMP.
Did the OMMP have issues to work out? For sure. Was it perfect? Not even close. But we were operating for less than year before the rec thing happened. Thing is, for people in areas like ours, nothing has ever changed. We don’t have rec stores on every corner. We don’t have massive grows to provide jobs to the hundreds of skilled growers in our area. The folks here who make amazing medicinal products have no legal market for them. This is progress?
So, sadly, 2017 will see the end of the OMMP as it once was. We were once the industry that invited the small growers and small processors to fulfill their dreams. We once were the industry that offered jobs to those considered unemployable. We once were the industry that helped the sick, the poor, and the needy. We once had an industry we could be proud of. Now, after all is said and done, we are back where we all started. Only a little less hopeful, a little more jaded, and certainly a little less wealthy. Most of us invested everything we had. Heart, soul, dollars, and time we can’t get back. If the state is going to kill the only thing our county has in the medical program, what do they expect us to do? If we can’t go rec, most of us will certainly not stop what we have been doing. The only thing that changed was that we were temporarily allowed to dream about bigger things. Now, we are just back to doing what we always did. Nothing has changed.
If you live in an area where rec stores are within a stone’s throw, and the grow sites are employing hundreds of people, remember. Remember that many of the people who helped build this industry and the many who paid the price, so you could have corporations offering low-quality, low-priced weed. Personally, I don’t think it was worth it. But what do I know: I’m just some guy from southern Oregon who once dreamed of high quality cannabis and jobs for all. Stupid dreamer.
Edward (Ed) Medina Jr.
A Better Way Medicinal Alternatives, LLC
3255 Washburn Way #5
Klamath Falls, Oregon 97603