Oregon pot export bill gets hearing, and a warning

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SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A bill that would create the possibility of Oregon exporting marijuana to adjacent states where cannabis is also legal had its first public hearing Thursday, where advocates said it would give Oregon a way to relieve its oversupply and grow its brand.

Separately, the U.S. attorney for Oregon warned against it.

There is little expectation that Senate Bill 582 , if passed by the Legislature, would soon open marijuana commerce between Oregon and California, Nevada and Washington, the three states contiguous to Oregon where it is legal.

But some advocates see it as a way to start laying groundwork for when the federal government either decriminalizes marijuana or decides not to prosecute if pot-legal states export to each other.

One advocate suggested going even further, since several countries, including Canada and Uruguay, have legalized marijuana.

“I would like to see an amendment that would allow international agreements in this bill, if federal law allows, so Oregon can cash in immediately without having to wait for the next legislative session,” Sarah Duff, spokeswoman for several pro-marijuana groups, said in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams told The Associated Press Thursday the bill does not change the fact that transporting marijuana across state lines is a federal crime.

“This bill is an attempt to remedy the rampant overproduction and trafficking of marijuana outside of Oregon,” Williams said in an emailed statement. He complained about the negative impacts of the marijuana industry on public health, minors and the environment.

But Steve Marks, director of Oregon’s recreational marijuana regulatory agency, said Oregon farmers have produced “copious amounts of cannabis” for generations and that the illegal export of pot has been taking place “for decades.”

“Oregon is not creating a new industry, it is converting an illegal cannabis production economy, and a loosely regulated medical program, into a well regulated legal market,” Marks wrote in a Jan. 31 letter to stakeholders.

Marks, the director of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, said the state is “at a crossroads where our state’s history with marijuana and the future of cannabis commercialization meet.”

Rep. Ken Helm, D-Beaverton, a co-sponsor of the export bill, said experts believe legalization of marijuana could come fairly soon, and that his measure anticipates that.

“It puts Oregon in the status of being ready to trade in this legal product,” Helm told the Judiciary Committee.

Gov. Kate Brown said Thursday she also sees the bill as a way to position Oregon for that possible future period of legalized weed.

“I think folks are trying to make sure that Oregon is well placed in terms of the industry if and when — I would say when — the federal government moves forward,” Brown said. She told reporters the first priority should be making sure the marijuana industry has access to the federal banking system.

Growers harvested more than 2.5 million pounds (1.1 million kilograms) of cannabis in October. Prices for marijuana in Oregon have dropped by half since December 2016, a symptom of the oversupply in inventories in the legal, regulated system.

Amid a backlog of thousands of applications for marijuana producers, processors and retailers, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission in June paused processing of recreational marijuana licenses. Already there are 2,100 licensees.

Another bill, printed by order of Brown, would authorize OLCC to refuse to issue marijuana production licenses based on market demand and other relevant factors.

Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky



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