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State officials begin work on new pot rules

Legislation — Recreational sales of marijuana will become legal October 1 at medical dispensaries


Oregon public health officials are writing rules for the first phase of the state’s legal pot retail market.

As it stands, adults age 21 and older in Oregon can possess marijuana, but there is no outlet for them to legally purchase the drug. That is set to change Oct. 1, when state law will allow medical marijuana dispensaries to sell limited types and quantities of pot to all adults.PMG FILE PHOTO - Rules - The Oregon Health Authority is writing temporary rules necessary to allow recreational customers to purchase cannabis seeds, plants that are not flowering and up to one-quarter ounce of marijuana flowers or leaves from medical marijuana dispensaries.

“It is a super rapid timeframe with lots of things to get into place,” Steve Wagner, administrator of the Center for Health Protection within the Public Health Division, said.

The Oregon Health Authority, the division’s parent agency, is writing temporary rules necessary to allow recreational customers to purchase cannabis seeds, plants that are not flowering and up to one-quarter ounce of marijuana flowers or leaves from medical marijuana dispensaries. For now, only medical marijuana cardholders are allowed to purchase products from dispensaries in Oregon.

The rules will spell out how dispensaries verify the ages of customers and other details of the sales, according to the bill that authorized the temporary dispensary sales. Lawmakers passed legislation to temporarily allow the recreational sales at medical dispensaries because recreational pot stores might not open until late 2016, due to the state’s licensing timeline.

The health authority is also writing permanent rules to implement a broad array of new cannabis regulations lawmakers passed this year, from accreditation and testing standards for laboratories that test pot products to product labeling and dosage standards.

The authority will write rules to implement residency requirements lawmakers passed this year: Two years of residency for growers and others involved in specific areas of marijuana businesses, and residency for all participants in the state’s medical marijuana program. Residency requirements for medical pot businesses take effect March 1. Oregon allows people from out of state to sign up for medical marijuana cards, which has made it easier for growers to justify large grows through a practice known as card stacking. The Oregonian reported last year that the state’s largest legal medical marijuana grow served 104 patients who all lived in California.

Wagner said the new rules will determine how people can prove residency.

“It’s not the easiest thing to do,” Wagner said. “I certainly don’t want everybody submitting their tax statements or stuff like that.”

The division plans to hire 26 new employees to handle the work, at a cost of $4.8 million over the next two years, agency spokesman Jonathan Modie wrote in an email. Modie added that the state will cover the cost with marijuana-related revenue.

Some of those employees will focus on ensuring marijuana businesses follow state rules and Wagner said their goal will be to achieve voluntary compliance whenever possible.

“Our primary purpose is to make sure that the businesses we regulate operate in a compliant manner and usually we do that best by helping them to get there,” Wagner said. “Merely doing an enforcement action doesn’t help to correct.”

Employees at the agency will have the authority to inspect medical marijuana grow sites and medical pot processors, and could revoke licenses if businesses do not follow the rules.

Initially, the health authority will adopt temporary rules because of the short timeframe. Wagner said the agency does not have to take public comment on temporary rules, but employees will look for opportunities for the public to weigh in.

Wagner does plan to share the rules with the health authority’s advisory committee on medical marijuana, during that committee’s public meetings. The health authority’s permanent rules on medical pot will go through a review process that includes opportunities for public comments.

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