In a recent statement to the Oregonian, Sen. Ginny Burdick – (D) Dist. 18, and Co-chair of the Joint Committee on Marijuana Regulation, stated, “… medical marijuana growers are a chief source of black market cannabis leaving the state. She said she’s confident that tight regulation of the recreational marijuana program is keeping it from leaking out of the system.” – Oregon Live, march 18, 2017.
The Senator’s statement is inaccurate and misrepresents what is currently happening in Oregon’s marijuana market(s) and unfairly lays the blame on medical marijuana growers.
Senator Burdick’s statement fails to address hundreds of illegal grow operations across this state under the cover of the legal system and the thousand of home grows that produce amounts in excess of the legal limits while painting medical growers with a very broad brush. More importantly though is the State’s very own regulatory systems designed and lauded as being the right approach to reduce just such leakage, have not succeeded in doing so.
Production levels for cannabis in Oregon were already outstripping demand prior to the passage of Measure 91 in 2014. What the resulting “tight regulation of the recreational marijuana program,” put in place for the adult use market did simply added a whole new sector of marijuana production to the picture. This new production sector, as predicted, rapidly added to this excess.
This oversupply, alongside new regulatory requirements that bottle-necked the supply chain for months, resulted in many growers and producers finding themselves with inventory that is just sitting there. Still. And for many it has now been in inventory for months and is affecting its market value.
Meanwhile these growers face the struggle of meeting the day- to-day expenses of running a business where they are unable to deduct those expenses and have no real access to banking forcing industry into cash only businesses models that only add to the difficulty of tracking illegal activities. Add to this investors expecting immediate and substantial returns on investments that are eating up capital like wildfire through dry grass, with all that inventory still just sitting there, and the temptation for diversion for even those operating within the confines of the regulated system may be tough to resist if the alternative is the loss of their business.
These are the real factors at play here in Oregon’s regulated marijuana markets and blaming the medical marijuana growers as the “chief source of black market cannabis leaving the state” ignores these relevant factors in a much bigger equation.
As patient advocates we worry that placing the blame for Oregon’s diversion problems at the feet of the medical growers without recognizing these factors jeopardizes our medical program and puts Oregon’s medical cannabis patients at risk. Changes to the medical program over the last several sessions have also put patients under unnecessary stress worrying if they will continue to have safe and reasonable access to the medications they need.
As patient advocates we also worry, especially in light of recent comments from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, about how Oregon’s inability to get a handle on this situation will affect Oregon’s top-ranked medical marijuana program and its ability to continue to meet the ongoing needs of our medical cannabis patients.
It is hard for patients to sit quietly unnoticed as the State continues struggling to control the unintended consequences of the new regulatory system for adult use and its impact on those patients. Everything we do in Oregon to regulate markets affects patients. Let’s not forget that.