Pubdate: Thu, 01 Oct 2015
Source: Statesman Journal (Salem, OR)
Copyright: 2015 Statesman Journal
Note: The Register-Guard, Eugene, Sept. 28


[Today] medical marijuana dispensaries in Oregon that choose to do so 
can begin selling dried pot leaves and flowers to people other than 
the patients they've been serving the past 18 months. The Oregon 
Health Authority - which oversees the medical marijuana program - 
will allow dispensaries to sell it for non-medicinal use through Dec. 
31, 2016, a couple of months after state-approved rules for selling 
recreational marijuana are due to go into effect.

Possession and use of recreational marijuana became legal in Oregon 
in July. One of the reasons Oregonians voted to legalize recreational 
use last November was to try to kill off the black market for the 
drug. Fearing it would get a boost once recreational use became 
legal, officials agreed to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to 
also sell their product for recreational use until a recreational 
sales program is in place.

That was the right decision, but it's put some medical marijuana 
dispensary owners and managers in an awkward position. Most of them 
went into medical marijuana dispensing intending to help people who 
deal with chronic pain and debilitating medical conditions obtain 
marijuana legally. Many have struggled because they're basically not 
allowed to make a profit from marijuana sales.

The dispensaries buy marijuana from growers who are allowed to charge 
only enough to cover the "normal and customary cost of doing 
business." The dispensaries then pass those costs on to their 
patients. Because no markup's allowed, dispensaries have to make 
their profits elsewhere, often from the sale of marijuana-related products.

Recreational marijuana sales will be different. Sellers will be 
allowed to make a profit and will pay taxes on their earnings - in 
the interim program, 25 percent. Some people worry that the profit 
incentive will cause dispensaries to shift some or all of their 
business to recreational sales, and that could cut into the supply of 
marijuana for medicinal use, which would likely increase prices, 
currently about $10 per gram.

Recreational sales could also prompt some medical marijuana users to 
drop out of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program, in which they pay 
$200 per year for a medical marijuana card. In addition to saving the 
$200, they'd no longer have to register with the state. The patients 
most likely to drop out would be those who didn't need marijuana for 
medical reasons but managed to use the program as a surrogate until 
recreational marijuana was legalized.

On Sept. 17, the OHA sent each of the state's 340 medical marijuana 
dispensaries "opt in" paperwork for the recreational sales program. 
Eighteen of Lane County's 31 dispensaries said they're joining the 
program. Ten didn't respond to inquiries and two said they hadn't 
made a decision. Only one ruled out selling recreational marijuana.

Ronnie Schmidt, general manager at a Springfield dispensary, spoke 
for others when he said his business wasn't losing sight of its 
patients but, "in this market, it's necessary for most dispensaries 
that want to remain in business to go to recreational."

Bringing the sale of marijuana out of the shadows will be good for 
users and for society in general, by eliminating the criminal aspects 
of the business. And the hypocrisy of some people using marijuana 
recreationally under the guise of medical need will disappear. But if 
the introduction of recreational sales adversely affects those who 
need the drug for medicinal purposes, either by reducing their supply 
or putting the price out of reach, that would be bad.

Hopefully, a balance will be struck. And who knows? Maybe the interim 
solution that goes into effect Thursday - a temporary marriage of 
medicinal and recreational sales - will turn out to be a permanent solution.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom