SALEM — The Oregon Liquor Control Commission was inundated with 1,001 applications in the in the lead up to a temporary hiatus on processing marijuana business licenses that was intended to allow the agency to work through a backlog of applications.
On May 30, the agency announced it would set aside any license applications received after June 15 in favor of first tackling a backlog of 1,423 license applications. The influx of applications adds more work for 13 commission employees who were already overwhelmed by the workload.
“We expected there would be a surge of some kind,” says Mark Pettinger, an agency spokesman. “We didn’t know how much or how great.”
The workload includes applications for new licenses, renewals and changes in ownership or other aspects of existing licensees.
It’s not clear how long it may take the OLCC to get through the new backlog of about 2,295 applications.
These include applications in various stages of the vetting process, according to OLCC records.
Eight applications have been received since the hiatus went into effect.
Ninety-two more license applications have been approved since the hiatus was announced, bringing the total number of active licenses to 1,964.
The backlog includes both applications for new businesses and applications to change business structures or ownership when they concern changes to majority ownership stake.
After Oregon voters signed off on legalizing recreational marijuana in 2014, and the state started standing up a regulatory system, the number of people seeking to get into the market significantly exceeded the state’s expectations.
And now that the market has matured somewhat, more businesses are changing their structures or their ownership.
Ownership changes require a new business application when the change concerns 51 percent or more of the ownership stake, or when a business structure change means there’s a new majority owner.
The agency estimates that a license renewal takes about 80 percent of the time it takes to process a new license.
The amount of time it will take to get through the backlog will depend on staff availability, Pettinger said. The agency plans to ask for more workers.
“The workload is just so constant and significant that with the current staff, we’re going to be continuing at the same pace unless we get additional resources,” Pettinger said.
Different types of applications move through the system at different rates — it’s generally quicker to process applications from wholesalers, retailers and processors than it is to process applications from marijuana producers, Pettinger said.
Applications the agency received after the June 15 deadline will still be processed, the agency says, but will be at the back of the line.
The agency is still processing marijuana worker permit applications. Those are required to work in the recreational marijuana industry.
There are 31,029 active worker permits, with 17,486 more accepted but not paid, and 1,969 under review, as of July 12.