Lawmakers will continue shoring up marijuana regulations

Marijuana plants grow in a high tunnel at a farm near McMinnville. A report funded by the federal government says Oregon produces more than 2 million pounds of marijuana each year, more than six times what it says can reasonably be consumed.

The Oregon Legislature saw both chambers work to destigmatize marijuana June 11.

Once illegal, the substance is becoming part of the state’s identity — and a cash crop.

The Senate gave the nod to a proposal that would help tens of thousands of Oregonians with marijuana convictions clear their record, allowing them better access to housing and jobs. In 2014, Oregon voters legalized marijuana. However, those convicted before 2014 continued to be impacted by their use when the substance was illegal.

Senate Bill 420 (the number apparently is a coincidence) repassed the Senate 25-4.

It originally passed by the same margin in April, but was slightly amended so it needed reapproval. Having already passed the House, it now heads to Gov. Kate Brown’s desk.

For decades, marijuana possession charges flooded Oregon’s courts.

The exact number of living Oregonians with such charges is unclear since the courts at the time didn’t specify which type of controlled substance someone was charged with, however estimates range from 20,000 to 75,000.

Under the bill, anyone convicted of a marijuana offense that is no longer a crime simply needs to fill out a form seeking to have their record cleared.

“The impact of these convictions is life-long,” Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, said when carrying the bill in the Senate in April.

Frederick testified these convictions cut off access to jobs, housing and education. We must break those barriers, he said.

The bill also got bipartisan support in the House, passing 42-15 in early June.

“It is time for the state to right this wrong,” Frederick said.

The House on June 11 passed Senate Bill 582, which would allow Oregon’s governor to enter into agreements with other states to export Oregon weed. It would only go into effect if the federal government agrees to allow interstate commerce of marijuana.

Representatives Christine Drazan, R-Clackamas, and Lynn Findley, R-Vale, said the bill is premature.

It’s like hiring a financial planner in preparation for winning the lottery, Findley said.

But Democrats have supported the concept, saying this is a chance for Oregon and its small businesses to get their ducks in a row in case out-of-state sales of marijuana becomes legal or tolerated by the federal government.

Oregon has a glut of marijuana — so much so that last week the legislature approved a bill to allow state regulators to stop giving out licenses to produce recreational marijuana when the supply exceeds demand. Right now, the state has an oversupply of weed that would take six years to get through.

Rather than waste away in Oregon, growers could be selling it to retailers in other states where recreational weed is legal.

It could be the next pinot noir, hazelnut or craft beer, backers say.

Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland, argued that those saying the bill is premature could be doing so because they don’t like recreational marijuana in the first place.

He said a vote for the proposal isn’t an endorsement of the substance, it’s an endorsement of the business community. It creates future jobs and gives Oregon’s pot producers a shot to sell their crop on a national stage.

The bill passed 43-16 and now just needs Brown’s signature.

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