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State begins tracking medical marijuana

Regulators rely on self-reporting by industry players

PARIS ACHEN - Carole Yann, analysis unit manager for the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program at Oregon Health Authority, gives a training Monday, June 6, 2016, on new requirements for reporting medical pot stock.For the first time next month, the state will require the medical marijuana industry to report how much product it grows, processes, stores and transfers in the open market.

The requirement is intended to track the stock of medical marijuana in Oregon and prevent it from entering the illicit supply. However, the tracking relies largely on the honor system, and the regulating agency — the Oregon Health Authority — has few inspectors to inspect sites or verify the accuracy of self-reporting by the industry.

The agency’s compliance unit initially will focus enforcement efforts on large grow sites and registered growers and processors who have failed to file reports, said Carole Yann, analysis unit manager for the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program.

More than 100 medical cannabis dispensary owners, growers and processors crowded a conference room at Oregon’ Health Authority’s Portland headquarters Monday for the first of several trainings on the new reporting system.

“If you are complying ... you are not going to receive an audit,” Yann told growers and processors at the training session.

The first report is due July 10 for tracking product from the month of June. Patients who grow pot for their personal use are exempt from the reporting requirements.

Oregon’s medical marijuana program is one of the oldest in the country, dating back to 1998. Until legalization of recreational marijuana in October, the program was largely unregulated.

In 2015, lawmakers passed legislation to require the Oregon Health Authority to track medical marijuana through a self-reporting mechanism.

Businesses that have profited from the lack of regulation of medical pot, such as no tracking and large grow allowances — pushed back hard against the monitoring system. Meanwhile, Oregon Health Authority officials said the system lawmakers authorized didn’t go far enough to keep medical cannabis out of the illicit market.

Until November, Oregon Health Authority officials continued to ask lawmakers to allow them to use a seed-to-sale tracking system for medical cannabis, similar to the one that will be used to track recreational marijuana. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission inked a $1.7 million contract in September with Franwell for the recreational pot-tracking system.

That system involves labeling every plant and tracking it with a tiny computer chip similar to those used to find lost pets.

“It is very challenging without seed-to-sale,” Priscilla Lewis, deputy director of the Oregon Public Health Division, said in November. “Without it, there are opportunities for dirty product to come back into the system and also for diversion.”

Naysayers of seed-to-sale have said stringent tracking and other onerous regulation would hurt low-income patients’ access to medical cannabis by making the product more expensive.

Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, a member of the Joint Legislative Committee on Marijuana Legalization, has said the looser tracking system for medical pot was “a political compromise because the medical program is almost 20 years old now.”

The new tracking system for medical marijuana requires dispensaries, growers and processors to report monthly on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet how much marijuana they have in stock, including mature and immature plants, flowers, edibles, extracts and topical products, and how much was transferred to dispensaries, processors and individual patients.

“I hope that it helps us to bring marijuana into the light so people will realize this is not just for partying — a gateway drug,” said Sean Fitzgerald, a medical pot cardholder from Columbia County who plans to apply for a medical processing license.

Possession, manufacture and delivery of medical and recreational cannabis remain illegal at the federal level. The U.S. Department of Justice, in a 2013 memo, indicated that states that have passed laws to legalize marijuana must implement “strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems that will address the threat those state laws could pose to public safety, public health and other law enforcement interests.”

“A system adequate to that task,” the memo states, “must not only (include) robust controls and procedures on paper, it must also be effective in practice.”

Additional directives on self-reporting medical marijuana product will be posted on the agency’s website on June 20, at