Klamath County, Oregon: The First to Opt Back In to Marijuana?

Here's to hoping that Klamath County has a view to voting to legalize.
Here’s to hoping that Klamath County has a view to voting to legalize.

If you subscribe to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission’s (OLCC) marijuana listserve, like me, you get an email every week or two regarding all of the Oregon cities and counties that have opted out of marijuana. By my count, the most current version contains 65 prohibitionist locales, resulting in quite a visual patchwork.

As a refresher, an Oregon city or county can opt out of nearly all marijuana activity by administrative fiat if the city or county voted 55% or more against Measure 91. If the city or county voted less than 55% against Measure 91 (or for the Measure), it can only opt out through a local vote. For some background on this controversial regime, check out our articles here, here, here and here.

Klamath County was the furthest county west to opt out without putting the choice to its voters. Klamath County is also larger than most or maybe all of the opt-out counties, and home to many marijuana growers, with a total population of 70,000 people. Of those eligible to vote, 56% went against Measure 91, so Klamath County was within its rights to do what it did. Still, the democratic play would have been to kick the idea of blanket prohibition back down to local voters.

Because there are a lot of pot growers in Klamath County, citizens have pushed back. A referendum to overturn the ban was circulated, denied, re-circulated and ultimately approved. You can read about that saga here. As a result, the referendum to overturn Klamath County’s ban on marijuana sales will be on the May 17, 2016 ballot. The ballot caption will read, “Allowing state licensed medical and retail marijuana facilities.” Hopefully, it passes.

Until that time, Klamath County marijuana entrepreneurs will be hamstrung, as OLCC begins accepting recreational marijuana applications January 4 and the Oregon Health Authority will continue to oversee its medical marijuana regime all the while. In Klamath County and the other opt-out jurisdictions, only medical growers will continue to be able to operate.

Through its actions, Klamath County will lose out on tax revenue generated from the marijuana industry throughout the state, as well as revenue it could gain from tax on sales in the County itself, unless and until it opts back in. Because the State of Oregon has estimated $9 million in tax revenue for the first full year of 2017, Klamath County and many of the 65 others that have opted out will probably not stay out for long.

The situation in Klamath County is a great example of something we often say: part of running a marijuana business in Oregon remains advocating for your right to do so. Marijuana entrepreneurs in Klamath County are doing a great job in that regard. Let’s hope they succeed.