By Keith Mansur
Oregon Cannabis Connection
August 10, 2016 – The OLCC was expected to be heavy-handed when it came to cannabis rulemaking after Measure 91 passed. One reason Anthony Johnson included the OLCC in the measure was to use their substantial resources, but also to offer a “control” aspect to the initiative that more conservative voters might embrace. It seemed to be an effective tactic, but it worried the marijuana industry.
Surprisingly to many, the rulemaking is going well. One of the main reasons for this has been Chairman of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), Rob Patridge. He has been able to lead the implementation of reasonable rules effectively and as timely as can probably be expected, considering the weight of the lift handed to the state’s liquor rule and enforcement commission in 2014.
With numerous issues affecting the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and their marijuana rules changes, the OLCC rules adoption and implementation has gone reasonably well and controversy-free. Much of the success is due to Chairman Patridge, a longtime Southern Oregonian and Republican, who was appointed by Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber as Commissioner in 2013.
We sat down with Patridge for a chat at beautiful Oregon Cannabis Farms where the first ever US Congressional fundraiser was held in a medical cannabis garden. He spoke openly and frankly with us about his background and his job at the OLCC.
From Boy Scouts to State house
Patridge’s leadership and political interests began as a teenager when he was Class President and Student Body Vice President and served as Western Region Chief of Boy Scouts of America. Although he attended a small school in Eagle Point, where he grew up on a cattle ranch, he really was able to cut his teeth as a leader in the massive Boy Scouts organization, traveling extensively and becoming involved in Boy Scout leadership.
His responsibilities included the 11 western states, Japan and the Philippines, so he traveled over 100,000 miles a year for two years fulfilling his leadership duties. It was a transformative experience. He interacted with business leaders, community leaders, and politicians few teenagers ever experience.
“Boy Scouts of America gave me great exposure,” Patridge explained. “I got to work with guys like Bill Marriott and other phenomenal leaders.”
He would later go to Willamette University and eventually their law school. He eventually returned to the Rogue Valley, settling in Medford, where he started his family and began serving the community. He would serve as Deputy District Attorney for Jackson County for three years and was elected to the Medford City Council, where he served about three years.
Patridge is a businessman, and his family owned the Cash Connection pawn shops in Grants Pass, Central Point, and Redmond. He has been married for 19 years and has two teenagers, ages 14 and 16. They stay very involved in the local Rogue Valley community with different groups, and with their children’s activities.
A key political position Patridge held was as Oregon State Representative for two terms for the Medford area from 1999 to 2005. He chaired the House Ways and Means Public Safety Subcommittee and was the majority Whip for house Republicans his last four years. Although he served in the state legislature, he was influenced by a politician in the U.S. Capitol, almost 3,000 miles away.
“I was mentored by U.S. Congressman Bob Smith, from the time I was 19 years old,” Patridge said. “I interned for him in Washington D.C. and it was a great experience.”
Kitzhaber must have believed in Patridge. After appointing him to the OLCC board in October 2012, he also appointed him to the position of Klamath County District Attorney in April 2013 when the late Ed Caleb retired after 27 years of service as county’s DA. The appointment was temporary, but well-received. A Republican was more welcome in the conservative county, which lies just over the Cascade Mountains from Medford. Patridge decided to run for the position and was permanently elected and has been in the position for a total of three years.
“The Governor asked for me to serve as the District Attorney,” Patridge explained. “Then I decided to run after being asked to run by the community.”
When the Chairman of the OLCC in 2012, Steve Pharo, was forced into retirement by the Governor, Merle Lindsey ran the agency on an interim basis. That was when Patridge was appointed to the board, at large. In September 2013, Kitzhaber appointed Patridge as Chairman.
“One of the reasons the Governor asked me to chair the commission was he was interested in improving legislative relations, not just on marijuana, but generally improving relations,” Patridge told OCC. “Plus he thought that it would be good, with marijuana coming on board, to have someone with public saf
ety experience at the time, so that’s why I was asked to do it.”
Now, looking back, it seems apparent that Kitzhaber saw the cannabis writing on the wall, or should we say, smoke in the air. At the time, many were unsure about the appointment, but so far it seems that it may have been an insightful decision.
“We knew, probably, [legalization] was coming,” said Patridge. “John Kitzhaber was thoughtful about trying to look forward to have somebody who could build consensus, so that’s how I wound up there.”
Even before rulemaking really began following the passage of Measure 91, The Brookings Institute, one of Washington, D.C.’s most influential think tanks, named Patridge to its list of 12 most influential people in US marijuana policy on April 20, 2015. This was in large part due to the power bestowed the commission in rulemaking.
Then Patridge held a series of “town hall” events on a “listening” tour made to different regions. There, he mostly heard from people worried about the demise of medical marijuana or people who wanted to know how they could prevent legal marijuana in their town. A surprising lack of relevant questions concerning the new adult-use market were posed at most “listening” events. Patridge did his part by having the events, but the recreational industry seemed to be unconcerned, generally.
This left a lot of questions unanswered, and the commission relied on industry experts and their Rules Advisory Committee (RAC) for guidance in the rulemaking. Navigating the potential pitfalls was difficult, and listening to reasonable suggestions was particularly necessary. Patridge did that quite well.
“Right from the get-go, Patridge was willing to listen and the listening tour he put together shows he was flexible.” said Brent Kenyon of Southern Oregon Alternative Medicine and Grateful Meds dispensaries. “They actually listened and then implemented rules based on the input from the industry.”
Admittedly, one of the industry leaders Patridge relied upon heavily was Kenyon, who was also on the OLCC Rules Advisory Committee. His expertise is wide-ranging, and includes all sectors of the industry, which has proven invaluable.
“Brent has provided a phenomenal background on things for us in Southern Oregon,” Patridge explained of Brent Kenyon. “He’s networked into the rest of the state, and he has individually done more for me than anybody in terms of being able to make those connections, being able to talk to people, and being able to get some insight into what’s going on.”
More support from the industry
Although Kenyon may be Patridge’s go-to expert, he also received input from dozens of others in the industry. He relied on input from patient advocates such as Anthony Taylor of Compassionate Oregon and outdoor cultivation advice and recommendations from the Oregon Sungrown Growers Guild (OSGG), a group of hundreds of organized growers in the Southern Oregon region that promote sustainable cannabis.
The most prominent marijuana policy leader in Oregon, Anthony Johnson, believes Patridge has been surprised, especially considering the background he comes from. Johnson was the Chief Petitioner for Measure 91 and ran the campaign with the organization he still heads, New Approach Oregon.
“When I first learned that the chair of the OLCC Commission was a Republican District Attorney from Klamath Falls, I was honestly very worried,” Johnson explained to OCC. “After working with Rob Patridge, I have been pleasantly surprised.”
“He often seeks out my advice, and the advice of others in the cannabis industry, and from my perspective, he truly wants the cannabis industry to succeed in Oregon,” Johnson stated further. “While I wish that he and others in the OLCC were more progressive on advancing cannabis laws, I am happy with the actions of Mr. Patridge.”
Industry leaders seem to either be supportive or indifferent. Considering the angst many had when OLCC took over rulemaking and enforcement, indifference is a win.
“I don’t have anything sensational to say about the man,” “Pioneer” Pete Gendron, President of the OSGG, told OCC. “I’ve not heard him in meetings or in person say, or seen him do, anything that would appear to be in direct contravention of the law, or his mandates or position requirements.”
Medical growers fear the OLCC
Almost immediately, the OLCC was accused by many of trying to “take over” regulation of the already existing medical marijuana grows, not only regulate the yet-to-be established recreational grows. The pushback was severe, and it became apparent that no one wanted the OLCC involved in medical marijuana grows, or any aspect of the OMMP program.
“Really, it’s a trust issue,” Patridge said. “What we ran into was huge trust issues surrounding what we were going to be like as a regulatory agency, and the medical community was very, very wary of the OLCC. I think there is a higher level of comfort now.”
“I think there is a legitimate reason for medical [grows], but it doesn’t make sense from a financial standpoint to do that, and I think there will continue to be additional tweaks to the law in Salem.”
On Oregon’s opt-out provisions
One of the headaches spawned from legislative meddling of the voter-approved measure in 2015 was a divided state. Senate Bill 1531, introduced by Sen. Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli, contained a provision that allowed communities in counties that voted over 55% against Measure 91 to “opt out” of the lic
ensing and operation of recreational cannabis businesses in their county or town.
It created a divided state, with select regions of the state banning all licensing of dispensaries, processors, and grows. The result had an effect on the OLCC.
“As a state regulator, it certainly made our job challenging as we staff up and figure out what kind of resources we need and where we need those resources,” Patridge agreed.
“It was a legislative proposal that went through,” explained Patridge. “Compromise breeds uncertainty, so we will see how things ultimately shake out. What’s funny is that they have the same opt out for alcohol, but people just don’t realize that,” he said. “These counties could say I don’t want either, and could be dry counties if they wanted to.”
Curiously, Monmouth was the last dry town in Oregon, banning beer and wine until 2002 and hard liquor until as recently as 2010! There are now two medical marijuana dispensaries in Independence, within walking distance, just a mile away!
Attitude is everything
How can our industry make it easier, and help change attitudes? Patridge says there is more the industry can do than just open their doors and sell products.
“I think the best thing the industry can do is try and help educate people; help talk about it openly,” Patridge explained. “The industry just doesn’t want anyone high and driving. That’s where the industry can take a leadership role and recommend public education campaigns to the legislature and show that they have matured enough to stand up for those kinds of things,” he said. “The industry wants to be responsible.”
Oregon’s marijuana industry moving forward
“We are going to continue to tweak the rules,” Patridge said. “Things get shoved through and there are mistakes that happen, and we are able to help fix some of those.”
Anthony Johnson thinks the future will go well with Patridge in charge, explaining to OCC, “As we work to protect and improve Oregon’s cannabis laws, my experience with Rob Patridge has made me feel that he is fair and that he won’t work to undermine the cannabis movement and, in many ways, he will be very helpful in establishing a system that all Oregonians can be proud of.”
It would be nice if the OHA and OMMP could be as effective at implementing changes, if they must be done at all. To be fair, one major difference is that the OMMP is changing a system that was existing and some might say “entrenched,” while the OLCC had the opportunity to practically start from scratch.
It is still early, but it appears to be going well. Having a responsive and considerate commission will be key to effective regulation of a once-illegal product, which is still lucrative on the black market. Also key is getting growers to understand that while regulation is a fact, how that regulating is handled is greatly dependent on their own behavior and professionalism. All-in-all, not a bad start to the adult use marijuana market in Oregon.
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