2016 was a huge year for cannabis. So we decided we would rank the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts analyzed one state. We started this series on January 10, 2016, and now, over a year later, we are ready to crown the top state for cannabis law: Oregon.
Our previous rankings are as follows: 2. Colorado; 3. Washington; 4. California; 5. Alaska; 6. Massachusetts; 7. Maine; 8. New Mexico; 9. Nevada; 10. Hawaii; 11. Maryland; 12. Connecticut; 13. Vermont; 14. Rhode Island; 15. Kentucky; 16.Pennsylvania; 17.Delaware; 18. Michigan; 19. New Hampshire; 20. Ohio; 21. New Jersey; 22. Illinois; 23. Minnesota; 24. New York; 25. Wisconsin; 26. Arizona; 27. West Virginia; 28. Indiana; 29. North Carolina; 30. Utah; 31. South Carolina; 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34.Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas; 46. Kansas; 47. Alabama; 48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma; 50. South Dakota.
Recreational Marijuana. Oregon voters approved Measure 91 to legalize recreational cannabis in 2014. This was two years after the failure of the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, which appeared on the 2012 ballot and would have legalized recreational marijuana. Measure 91 allows adults, 21 and over, to grow up to 4 plants on their property, possess up to 8 ounces of usable marijuana (dried marijuana flowers or leaves that are ready to smoke) in their home, and carry up to 1 ounce in public. Like other legal states, marijuana cannot be consumed in public.
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has the authority to tax, license and regulate recreational marijuana grown, sold, or processed for commercial purposes but does not regulate the home grow/personal possession provisions of Oregon law. The OLCC oversees multiple license types including producer, processor, wholesale, retail, and researcher licenses. Oregon has not limited the number of licenses it will grant, meaning that OLCC is continuously accepting applications. It also allows a single licensee to own multiple licenses (e.g., an entity can hold a producer, processor, and retail license). This differs from the approach taken by Washington, which limits the number of licenses granted and is currently not accepting new marijuana applications. Oregon’s marijuana market is open to out of state actors as the state does not impose a residency requirement. This also differs from Washington and from Colorado which require licensees to be state residents. Oregon imposes a relatively low 17% tax on recreational marijuana sales. Finally, Oregon is one of the few states to allow for cannabis delivery, although Portland, the state’s largest city, does not (yet) allow for marijuana delivery.
Medical marijuana. Oregon first legalized medical marijuana in 1998 by passing Ballot Measure 67. Oregon’s medical market is distinct from the recreational market although there is some regulatory overlap between the two. For example, Oregon medical dispensaries were authorized to sell recreational marijuana from October 1, 2016-January 1, 2017 while the recreational market took shape.
Oregon medical marijuana is regulated by the Oregon Health Authority. Individuals with a qualifying medical condition and a recommendation for medical marijuana from an attending physician can apply for a medical marijuana card. Qualifying conditions include the following:
- Cachexia (wasting syndrome)
- Severe pain
- Severe nausea
- Seizures, including but not limited to seizures caused by epilepsy
- Persistent muscle spasms
- Multiple sclerosis
Medical patients may possess up to 6 plants, which may only be grown at a registered grow site address, and up to 24 ounces of marijuana. This means patients are legally allowed to possess more cannabis than recreational users. Medical users may purchase from licensed medical marijuana dispensaries, but are limited to purchasing the following amounts in a single day
- 24 ounces of usable marijuana;
- 16 ounces of a medical cannabinoid product in solid form;
- 72 ounces of a medical cannabinoid product in liquid form;
- 16 ounces of a cannabinoid concentrate whether sold alone or contained in an inhalant delivery system;
- Five grams of a cannabinoid extract whether sold alone or contained in an inhalant delivery system;
- Four immature marijuana plants; and
- 50 seeds.
Bottomline. Determining the top state in this series was not easy. There was significant debate among our cannabis lawyers as to whether California, Colorado, Oregon, or Washington should take top honors. Seeing as how we have offices and lawyers in California, Washington and Oregon, we must concede just a bit of bias here. Ultimately, we determined that Oregon has the best marijuana program.
One of the prime determinants for us was Oregon not having a residency requirement, as we see this as very business friendly and making it much easier for cannabis businesses to secure funding. Oregon also has shockingly low licensing fees and it does not cap the number of licenses it will grant. This means one need not be a millionaire to get into the industry and this also means there will be (and there is) substantial competition to keep cannabis prices down. Oregon also allows its cannabis licensees to vertically integrate by owning multiple license types. The state is also consumer friendly, with relatively low taxes and with laws that allow for home growing your own cannabis. Oregon has had legal medical marijuana for nearly twenty years and it used this medical market to permit early sales of recreational marijuana, evidencing the state’s willingness to take a pragmatic approach to marijuana legalization.
Oregon’s cannabis laws are not perfect, but they are the best in the nation.
Do you agree?