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Edible pot, packaging concern lawmakers

SALEM — Lawmakers asked lots of questions about Oregon’s new legal pot law during last week’s first legislative committee meeting since voters approved Measure 91.

Starting July 1, 2015, adults 21 and older can possess cannabis for personal use. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission will begin accepting applications for retailers in early 2016.

The agency has a lot of work to complete before then, and it was clear during the Nov. 19 hearing that two areas where OLCC employees and lawmakers will focus their attention are marijuana product packaging and regulation of edible products.

OLCC employees presented an outline of issues they have authority to regulate under Measure 91, and anticipated costs and staff needs to begin regulating marijuana

Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, said he worries that people could unknowingly consume marijuana products, for instance if they look like normal baked goods. “I like brownies and I like cookies,” he said. “And I’d hate to think at the staff lounge we could have brownies and cookies that are laced with marijuana.”

Girod said it should be a crime to slip an edible marijuana product to someone who is unaware it contains the drug. OLCC staff responded they would have to check, but that type of behavior might already be a crime. Girod said he is also concerned that pot packaging will appeal to children.

“They’re going to do everything they can to appeal to kids,” Girod said of pot producers and retailers. “It’s the same way the tobacco industry used to be a long time ago. That’s why I think the agency needs to be on top of that segment of it, and hopefully ban some of those products that are really geared toward kids.”

Jesse Sweet, a policy analyst with the OLCC, said the agency has the authority under Measure 91 to regulate packaging to ensure it does not appeal to kids. Sweet said OLCC plans to take a “measured approach to implementation,” which will include a listening tour that will likely begin in January.

In December, OLCC employees plan to ask the Legislative Emergency Board for $333,000 to cover start-up costs for the program through June 2015.

If lawmakers approve funding, the agency plans to hire four new employees to handle work such as policy analysis and public affairs. “They’re designed to really shape the policy and start building the program,” Sweet said.

Eventually, the OLCC expects to have 28 employees in the marijuana program. Sweet said the OLCC is about to build “an agency within an agency.”

The OLCC estimated it will cost $2.6 million to manage the legal pot program during the next budget year that begins in July 2015.

Legal pot sales will generate tax revenue for the state when they begin sometime after Jan. 4, 2016, and estimates of the annual tax revenue range from $17 million to $38 million. The lower projections come from the state Legislative Revenue Office, and the higher one from supporters of Measure 91.

Tax revenue will pay the state cost to regulate marijuana, and any leftover money will fund a range of services include education, law enforcement and drug and alcohol treatment.

Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, asked if the OLCC could begin its listening tour earlier than January. Steven Marks, executive director of the agency, said he would “love to be ahead of the curve” but logistics preclude that.

“Right now, we have no budget authority to work on this issue,” Marks said.

Rep. Margaret Doherty, D-Tigard, said Wednesday’s discussion was important, “because I think it shows the challenges we have.”

The committee of lawmakers expects to meet again early in December, although a meeting had not been scheduled as of Wednesday. People who want more information about Measure 91 and would like to sign up for state

updates on marijuana legalization can visit marijuana.

oregon.gov.

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