Pubdate: Fri, 19 Jun 2015
Source: Oregonian, The (Portland, OR)
Copyright: 2015 The Oregonian
Author: Jeff Mapes


SALEM-Medical marijuana dispensary owners pleaded Thursday with 
legislators to allow them to sell to recreational pot users once the 
drug becomes legal on July 1.

"We don't know a single dispensary doing well in this over-saturated 
market," said Meghan Walstatter, who along with her husband Matt owns 
a dispensary in Northeast Portland.

She called early sales of recreational marijuana a "much-needed 
lifeline" for the dispensaries.

The Oregon Health Authority has approved licenses for 310 
dispensaries and another 93 are pending, according to a June 12 tally.

In Portland, more than 130 dispensaries have been approved, and one 
consultant, Sam Chapman said only a small number are making money. He 
said it could lead to a big shakeout with only a few large businesses 
left standing.

"If we truly want to keep this a craft industry and we want to 
empower the mom and pop businesses to be able to survive in this 
industry, we need to have early recreational sales," said Chapman, 
who works with many marijuana firms. "A lot of these businesses are 
starting to drown."

The House-Senate marijuana committee is considering legislation that 
would allow dispensaries to sell a limited number of marijuana 
products to recreational users while the Oregon Liquor Control 
Commission gears up its own retail network.

OLCC officials have said they won't be ready to license retailers 
until the latter half of 2016, more than a year after possession of 
marijuana becomes legal for 21-and-over adults. Many dispensary 
owners say they hope to eventually move into the recreational business.

The OLCC's slow start to retail sales  the Measure 91 initiative 
legalizing marijuana contemplated sales taking place as early as 
January of 2016  has led several lawmakers to say that recreational 
users should have a legal way to buy marijuana starting as close to 
July 1 as possible.

"We need to ensure we take every reasonable step to stop black market 
sales," said Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, calling for "as early a 
start as we can" to recreational sales.

The Wallstatters, who grow medical marijuana and own the Pure Green 
dispensary on Northeast Sandy Boulevard, were among several industry 
representatives who said the state should try to help preserve 
locally owned businesses while they are waiting for the OLCC to 
establish a full-scale recreational marijuana market.

Matt Wallstatter, a founding member of the Oregon Cannabis PAC, said 
a gold-rush fever attracted several people into the dispensary 
business once the state began licensing them in early 2014 and 
overall legalization of marijuana appeared on the horizon.

A lot of people thought, "it's marijuana, it's going to be lucrative" 
and jumped into the business without much further thought, he said.

Wallstatter said dispensaries are now limited to a market of about 
71,000 medical marijuana cardholders, and the ability to serve the 
adult market could more than double their sales.

Under amendments being considered by legislators, recreational users 
would be limited to buying no more than a quarter-ounce of dried 
marijuana and would not be able to purchase many of the other 
products that dispensaries carry, in particular marijuana-laced 
foods. Legislators debated Thursday over whether they should start 
sales before they are able to get a tax system up and operating, 
which could delay a temporary sales program until the fall.

Some marijuana business representatives also urged legislators to 
allow early sales of a variety of other marijuana products, including 
seeds and extracts, a concentrated form of the drug.

Donald Morse, director of the Oregon Cannabis Business Council, said 
he didn't think many dispensaries would survive regardless of whether 
the Legislature approves early sales.

"I just feel bad for the little guys coming in and thinking they're 
going to get rich," said Morse, who also owns Southwest Portland's 
Human Collective dispensary, which opened well before dispensaries 
were licensed by the state.

Morse said he thinks there will be a surge in demand after July 1 and 
that many people will obtain pot from friends who have medical 
marijuana cards and that it is better to provide consumers with a 
legal way to acquire it.

Rep. Ann Lininger, D-Lake Oswego, said after the meeting that "we're 
not trying to eliminate natural competition in the market, but we are 
trying to discourage the black market."

She said she did not want to rush into an early sales program that 
did not end up operating smoothly.

"I want an early start," she said, "not a reckless start."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom