Once upon a time, Oregon was seen as a leader in the use of cannabis as alternative medicine. In 1998, Oregon became the second state to legalize the cultivation and use of medicinal marijuana for qualifying patients and back in those days, it was like the Wild, WIld West for those in need. There was no OLCC regulating what you could and couldn’t buy in a dispensary, how much of it you could buy, and how the product had to leave the store. Patient X was able to walk into a store, purchase whatever product they needed no matter how potent (at a relatively affordable price), and they definitely didn’t know what an exit bag was. The community was enabled to support each other; growers and consumers working in tandem. That has all since changed since Measure 91 passed and legal recreational marijuana made its debut in Oregon.
In the years prior to legalizing recreationally, the medical community was thriving. Growers were able to provide a good and service to a community in need and patients had access to affordable medicine at no cost to taxpayers. Making money was not the focus; providing alternative medicine to people and letting growers continue their craft was the goal. It was a happy, go-lucky group of people that would welcome you into their community without judgement and no economic status requirement. Capitalism made sure to correct that quickly.
On July 1, 2015, it became recreationally legal for all Oregon residents to possess and consume marijuana recreationally. The masses rejoiced, as consumers of all sorts were able to come out of the stoner-closet. While July 1 was a celebration, legal sales were not available until the upcoming Fall on October 1, and even then only existing medical dispensaries were able to provide limited sales to recreational consumers. This gave the community the first contradiction in law; how were recreational users able to possess something they couldn’t legally buy? Of course, many people continued to go to the black market as they had been during prohibition and status quo remained unchanged. Upon initial legalization of sales in October, dispensaries opened their doors for recreational sales for the first time in Oregon and the numbers spoke for themselves. Oregon raked in $14 million worth of sales in the first month alone; that’s when Oregon blinked and all of a sudden, dollar signs replaced pupils like Mr. Krabs in Spongebob Squarepants.
Throughout the next year, the medical community was forgotten about like Better Call Saul; people conscious of its existence but when there’s dragons on Game of Thrones on the recreational side, sometimes quality takes a back seat. First starting with exuberant grower licensing fees that the community and never dealt with, leading to purchase limitations and limits on THC content in edibles and other products that some patients desperately needed or could ill afford. To avoid these limits, dispensaries had to make the difficult choice of giving up all recreational sales. Pick one: be a medical dispensary or be a recreational dispensary with limited medical grade choices; serve your community that got the industry where it is or make your money.
As of August 20, 2018, there are 578 dispensaries operating under a recreational license. Of that list, 334 dispensaries are approved to sell medical grade products. The total number of medical only dispensaries? Six. Total. The community that facilitated the growth of a now billion dollar per year industry, now has less than one dispensary per county in the state. Shopping for medical grade products that are available more commonly is not fiscally logical because of the fees that surround processors and farmers have greatly increased the cost for consumers. Previous OLCC chief Rob Patridge has admitted that the only purpose medical dispensaries will serve, is where counties and city have outlawed recreational stores. Patients do have financial dominance in one regard however; they do not pay the 17%-20% tax on rec sales that lets Oregon sleep well at night.
While Oregon has loosely admitted their mistake, hope for medical patients in Oregon does not look optimistic for the near future. The search for an unselfish personal grower is the only hope some have to properly treat themselves, especially those not near the metro-area with already limited recreational options. While the tax-free benefit is one of the last remaining hopes that the Oregon’s medical program means anything, it’s hard to say how long that will even last. As a patient myself, all one can hope is that the state can remember why it was a Trail Blazer in the 90’s to begin with.