For decades, Oregon has been a trailblazer in progressive cannabis culture. In 1973 it became the first state to decriminalize possession and use. In 1998, The Oregon Medical Marijuana Act allowed cannabis to be cultivated, purchased and used by medical patients for certain ailments, including severe pain, nausea, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and epilepsy. In 2010, the Oregon Pharmacy Board rescheduled cannabis at the state level from Schedule I to Schedule II, becoming the only state in the US to do so. In 2014, Oregon citizens voted to allow the recreational sale of cannabis to all adults aged 21+. Oregon, along with other states that have legalized recreational cannabis use, has begun a journey into hazy territory. A legal cannabis industry is a global first and the political and social hurdles are all lining up. Because of the controversial nature, strict government oversight is a must. However, there is hardly precedent for knowing which regulations will work and which will not. In a large and densely populated metropolitan city like Portland, Oregon, this has brought up a number of questions regarding how these operations fit into land use planning and existing zoning regulation.
Navigating the murky regulatory field of legal cannabis has proven difficult with the laws changing frequently and on short notice. As with many industries, regulations revolve around the issuance of permits and licenses by Portland's Office of Neighborhood Development (ONI), which has an official Cannabis Policy department. With legal cannabis, there are five types of licenses depending on what part of the industry you are servicing. A Producer license allows you to cultivate cannabis plants, a Processor license allows you to process the cannabis flowers and trimmings into edibles or concentrates, a Retail Courier license allows you to purchase and distribute large quantities of cannabis to retailers, a Retail license allows you to sell cannabis direct to consumers 21 and over and a Laboratory license allows you to test cannabis products for qualities such as THC/CBD content, pesticides or fungi. The issuance of these licenses have various stipulations, but a major factor in their approval depend on where exactly your business is located. In this article, we'll focus on the rules surrounding producers and retailers.
Retail licenses have the largest number of applications, as of mid-February 2017, there have been 185 applications accepted and 66 licenses issued in Portland. Retail shops and medical dispensaries are where customers purchase cannabis products. In terms of zoning, any shop or dispensary is prohibited from being located in any residential zone, concentrating them in both commercial and industrial zones. To limit saturation, which is a common complaint from Portland communities, all shops and dispensaries must be located 1,000 feet or more from each other. In addition, they must also be located 1,000 feet or more from any K-12 educational institution. The application for the license must demonstrate that the location of the shop complies with these designations. In addition, the application must include a Control Plan that addresses several issues that could arise during its operation. The Control Plan must outline and address safety and security concerns, prevention and education on underage consumption and how the shop will address nuisances. Nuisances are any negative impacts to neighborhood livability including patron parking, loitering concerns, noise levels and garbage. Once submitted, the Control Plan will be published online for transparency and are open to public comment and concerns before the application can be approved.
-- A map shows the locations of dispensaries in Portland. All purple, yellow and green circles are approved and pending dispensaries and retail stores. It shows the required buffer of 1,000 feet needed for approval. All blue circles are local schools with the required buffer of 1,000 feet. --
Producers face stricter regulations regarding their operations. They are generally much larger in scale than retail operations. No producer is allowed to be in any residential zone. Most are located in industrial zones or in rural areas not designated under any zoning regulations. Producers must submit a "Marijuana Cultivation Plan" along with their application. This plan designates the method of production, whether it is being produced outdoor or indoor using artificial lighting or a combination of both. The application must designate the size of the operation and their plan for water and electricity use. The size of the operation is designated by measuring the square feet of the canopy the applicant plans on producing. There are different applications depending on the size of the canopy, these are broken up into tiers. The cost associated with your application changes depending on the tier and you are not allowed to have a larger canopy than the maximum for whichever tier you apply for
Regulating the uncharted territory of legal cannabis has proven to be a true learning experience. "We are building the plane as we fly it," says Brandon Golder, the Assistant Coordinator of Portland's Cannabis Program. Officials at both the city and state level are having to adapt the regulatory framework frequently as concerns and question arise. However, they are not shying away from the fact that this is a learning experience for them and they take feedback very seriously. The people working in Portland's Cannabis Program are promoting transparency and encouraging community involvement in order to make the program work best for everyone. Goldner states, "You're going to find people who have concerns about one aspect and that concern is valuable and useful because if we don't hear from them than their opinions are not informing an adaptive regulatory structure moving forward."
What is next in the program? Social consumption has been a long talked about next step in the legalization process, and again there are numerous questions as to how this could work. Smoking indoors is already banned by Oregon's Indoor Clean Air Act and smoking outdoors would create odor nuisances. In addition, most users would be driving to and from the cannabis lounges, and since driving after smoking cannabis is illegal they will risk being charged with a DUI. Nevertheless, Senate Bill 308 would legalize social cannabis consumption in Oregon and is predicted to be passed later this year. As the plane keeps flying, Portland's cannabis community will have to wait and see if all the parts will be in the right place and hope there is no turbulence.
How do you feel about legal recreational cannabis? Should cannabis be allowed to be produced and sold in close proximity to neighborhoods and families? How does your city view and regulate cannabis use? Share your city's stories and your thoughts in the comments area below.
Credits: Image by Morgan Bradshaw. Map produced by Office of Neighborhood Development. Quotes from an interview with Mark Raggett. Data linked to sources.