Oregon Marijuana Policy: Trending Up

Oregon cannabisIn addition to creating lots of work for us cannabis corporate lawyers, the advent of state legal marijuana in Oregon has created some interesting new jobs. The Oregonian has hired three pot critics and a chef, and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission has filled out a roster of marijuana compliance specialists. Most recently, the highest level of Oregon state government got in on the action, when Governor Kate Brown’s office announced that it had appointed one Jeffrey Rhoades as the administration’s senior adviser on marijuana policy.

According to an Oregonian piece on this hire, Mr. Rhoades’ bona fides include lobbying the legislature on behalf of the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office, and holding degrees in economics and law. A little more digging shows that Mr. Rhoades worked in the Multnomah County drug unit, and he served as legislative liaison under Deputy DA Rod Underhill. So, Mr. Rhoades will pivot from “conducting investigations with the purpose of arresting drug dealers and seizing assets acquired through illegal means” to “helping build responsive regulations for Oregon’s growing legal cannabis market.” That sounds like a good change.

At Canna Law Group, though we advocate on behalf of our clients in front of regulatory bodies and with respect to various rulemaking processes, we generally stay out of politics. We also do a lot of compliance work. This requires us to maintain in-depth knowledge of the ever-changing statutory and administrative law framework in Oregon, as well as in Washington and California, our other flagship states. A quick search on the Oregon legislative website alone lists over 100 marijuana-related bills since the 2009 session. Though it is true that many of these bills relate to criminal laws, the balance relate to Oregon’s recreational and medical marijuana programs.

Recent hiring aside, Oregon’s Governor Brown generally has stayed out of the spotlight when it comes to cannabis. She has given few public statements on the issue, and from a public perspective, her participation seems mostly limited to signing off on bills. Perhaps this is to be expected of a politician who stepped into office with no voter mandate. In a similar vein, Ms. Brown has declined to take a position on Oregon’s proposed corporate tax measure, although that measure—which could have a big impact on pot businesses—will be the hallmark issue in Oregon’s November elections.

In all, the fact that Oregon has enlisted a marijuana policy adviser is a good sign, and industry advocates should be pleased with this development. Colorado Governor John Hickelooper made a similar hire in 2014, and that state has continued to tweak its programs for the better. Going forward, Oregon will continue to gather, parse and leverage information on issues as disparate as energy and water use in marijuana production and the medical and public health properties of cannabis. That is certainly a big improvement on arresting drug dealers and seizing assets.