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Is Medical Marijuana about to Disappear in Oregon?

Not everyone in Oregon is happy about the state’s new recreational marijuana law.  That starts with medical growers.  In the aftermath of legalization in both Colorado, but especially neighbouring Washington State, the unregulated medical community has been repeatedly forced to accept changes that they claim are actually hurting not only their right to grow, but also the rights of medical patients in general.

The Oregon Sun Grown Growers Guild, organized in the wake of the legalization vote, as a result, are organizing to have a voice in the newly regulated industry.  Members do not want any change in the current medical program in the state or the law that covers and already regulates the industry, to the extent that regs exist.  It is joined by the Oregon Growers PAC out of Portland, in lobbying for and representing the state’s large community of medically oriented growers.

Medical growers in Oregon, in particular, are especially worried about their continued existence in the aftermath of the situation in Washington State, where the medical industry appears to be on the verge of being forced to consolidate with a much smaller rec market.  This also includes worries that they will be zoned out of existence, if not face the coming competition from deep pocketed investors, both in and outside the state, who will establish price gouging, larger grow operations.  Members of the Sun Grown Guild also have a commitment to sustainable, outdoor growing, which utilizes less energy and water.  Most of all, medical growers do not want to subsumed under the new recreational program legalized by voters last year.

How successful they will be in this bid, is unclear.  The divisions between so-called “medical” and “recreational” growers if not outlets has begun to spark an unprecedented division in advocates across the spectrum of the legalization debate and in every state where this is an issue.  Medical users and those who grow for them, are particularly concerned that in the rush to “regulate” an industry, if not collect state taxes, that medical users and those who grow for them, will be pushed into an ultra commercial space that is ill suited for the needs of patients.

In Oregon, this battle has already resulted in one termination.   Tom Burns, the director of the marijuana program for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission was fired at the end of March.  Burns has been a long time and passionate medical marijuana advocate.  The issue was such a contentious one, that the Alcohol Commission, when pressed, finally told reporters that Burns had been fired for leaking a confidential rulemaking document outside the agency and then lying about it.  The fact that such an established member of the state rulemaking process might be tempted to do such a thing, however, also points to the increasingly fractious debate in the state about who has the right to grow, and for what purposes.

Oregon, as a result, may be the most recent state to hit up against this debate.  It is raging unabated in Washington.  In Colorado, for now, the medical market has maintained its separate identity from the rec vertical.  That said, this is pending fight in every state that establishes both a recreational and medical market.  The amount of money on the table, if not the fees states stand to collect, is the biggest driver of this development.

Oregon is the first state, however, where medically oriented growers have organized, and so early in the game, to protect a status quo they claim not only works but creates sustainable, small grow operations designed to serve the patients who live locally.  That said, they will not be the last.

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