The Oregon Senate on Wednesday rejected a plan to limit the amount of marijuana grown to reflect supply and demand, despite being enough available statewide to last seven years. The excess has led to a free fall in prices for recreational marijuana.
Sen. Michale Dembrow, D-Portland, submitted the bill, which proposes managing the number of production licenses issued based on supply and demand to limit the amount of marijuana currently produced. He said the bill is designed to prevent excess marijuana from making its way onto the black market.
Regulation of the industry is suffering from a lack of funding for inspections, a January audit from the Secretary of State shows. Additionally, the audit said the state has a weak testing system that threatens to expose consumers to chemical contamination and the state hasn’t done enough to prevent leakage to the black market.
According to the audit, 3 percent of recreational marijuana retailers had been inspected, along with only a third of growers.
“The structural weaknesses greatly increase the risk of diversion” into the black market, the audit said.
In 2015, a year after Oregon voters legalized marijuana, rules were created to ensure product wasn’t contaminated. But tests then showed more than a dozen contaminants, including bug killers, were in products sold on shelves.
The state tightened regulations but the audit shows the state doesn’t have a way to verify the accuracy of the tests.
As of last October, only 16 of the 591 licensed retail stores had been inspected. But that might not even be accurate, because the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which regulates the state’s recreational marijuana program, hasn’t consistently tracked its inspections.
It’s partly due because the commission originally anticipated it would receive 800 to 1,300 applicants in the first two years recreational marijuana was legal. By the end of 2017, applications submitted were more than double that. There are 23 inspectors for the 88 operators statewide.
Medical program worse
The Oregon Health Authority, which oversees the medical program, has six inspectors to cover 6,850 grow sites. That leaves the agency with a ratio of one inspector for every 1,142 growers.
Many medical marijuana producers grow so few plants that they don’t have to account for how many they have and where that marijuana goes. They are also exempt from security measures recreational providers are required to have — and don’t even need inspections to receive a license.
Pesticide tests in that time have improved. From January 2017 to July of last year, the number of failed tests fell by almost 6 percent to 2 percent, the audit said.
As is often the case, the shortfalls come down to money.
The Legislature has diverted more than $25 million from the medical marijuana program to other public health programs in the past two budget cycles.
Those in the industry have now turned to the legislature for assistance to get more inspectors.