Cannabis and hemp bring mixture of impacts to Oregon

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How’s it going with legal recreational cannabis in Oregon after four years? Addressing a conference on Occupational Safety & Health in Ashland, a man from the governor’s office said it has been a complicated, controversial journey.

Among the state’s findings, said Jeffrey Rhoades, senior marijuana policy advisor to Gov. Kate Brown, is that pot use by youth 12 and older rose 9% between 2008 and 2016, the year after legalization.

Some of that increase could be because youth feel more free to tell the truth now that it’s legal, so it’s hard to know for sure, added Rhoades.

Weed isn’t legal for those younger than 21, so the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which controls it, is doing “minor decoys” — using teens to try to buy weed at dispensaries. OLCC found that compliance is about on par with alcohol, so Gov. Kate Brown, who has a zero tolerance policy, got emergency rules to revoke marijuana worker permits and triple penalties for sale to minors at dispensaries.

Weed may be involved in more vehicle accidents, said Rhoades. But it’s often found in combination with alcohol, so even though it’s not legal to get high and drive, there’s no reliable way to determine whether cannabis is in a driver’s bloodstream.

“Someone could make a lot of money if they invent a system to do that,” he said.

However, he said, in addition to roadside blood-alcohol tests, police can use the standard that a driver appears “adversely affected to a noticeable degree.”

In terms of the booming CBD market, OLCC tightened the amount of medical CBD you can buy daily from dispensaries and seeks to ensure purity with testing, while keeping in mind that lab tests are expensive, which can hurt markets and favor larger businesses.

Because of the federal ban on recreational cannabis, access to banks remains very limited for those in the legal cannabis industry. It’s still mostly a cash business, and that introduces much uncertainty and expense, he said.

“Banks are risk averse and say it’s just not worth the risk ... so we’re trying to figure it out,” Rhoades said.

Another federal glitch has snagged hemp, which Rhoades called “rope, not dope,” even though the vast majority of hemp is being grown for medical products. Hemp is now legal nationwide, and the crop is undergoing an “explosion,” which is crowding out ranching and other forms of agriculture, but it is technically not legal to transport it across state lines unless the state files a letter of intent with the federal government and gets approval.

“We submitted the letter, but the feds are very busy with impeachment and all the other issues we hear about, so it’s hurry-up-and-wait. We’re in a tight spot but no one is being prosecuted for it.”

How much is hemp exploding? Oregon had 105 acres of hemp in 2015 and 56,000 acres this year. “Should we keep expanding the market?” Rhoades asked the audience.

Oregon has plenty of product, he said, adding he would advise the governor to keep it where it is, but that brings up big questions of government regulation vs. freedom of capitalism, and you can’t say “keep raising cattle and don’t plant hemp.”

He and other advisors are researching the huge shift in Oregon’s land use and, he noted, they will report it to the next Legislature.

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