Ore­gon loses track of med­i­cal pot

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL -

Of­fi­cials fault lax re­port­ing by pro­duc­ers, lack of in­spec­tors

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS SALEM, Ore. — How much med­i­cal mar­i­juana is in the pipe­line in Ore­gon? The man­agers of the state’s pro­gram con­cede that they sim­ply don’t know be­cause of lax re­port­ing by pro­duc­ers and a lack of site in­spec­tors. That, they say, cre­ates op­por­tu­ni­ties for mar­i­juana to be di­verted into the lu­cra­tive black mar­ket, some­thing that fed­eral au­thor­i­ties have long com­plained about. Ore­gon was one of the first states to le­gal­ize med­i­cal mar­i­juana in 1998, and in 2014 vot­ers ap­proved al­low­ing recre­ational use. The state’s strug­gle to trans­form a busi­ness that for decades had op­er­ated il­le­gally in the shad­ows into a reg­u­lated in­dus­try sets an ex­am­ple for other states mov­ing to­ward le­gal­iza­tion. In an in­ter­nal re­view re­leased late Thurs­day, the state’s Health Au­thor­ity, which over­sees the Ore­gon Med­i­cal Mar­i­juana Pro­gram, ad­mit­ted it has not pro­vided ef­fec­tive over­sight of grow­ers and oth­ers in the in­dus­try. “Po­ten­tially er­ro­neous re­port­ing cou­pled with low re­port­ing com­pli­ance makes it dif­fi­cult to ac­cu­rately track how much prod­uct is in the med­i­cal sys­tem. This lim­its OMMP’s abil­ity to suc­cess­fully iden­tify and ad­dress po­ten­tial di­ver­sion,” the re­port said. The re­port showed there were more than 20,000 med­i­cal pot grow sites, but only 58 in­spec­tions were car­ried out in 2017. Ore­gon Health Au­thor­ity Di­rec­tor Pa­trick Allen or­dered the in­ter­nal re­view amid com­plaints from law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties who say they of­ten have trou­ble iden­ti­fy­ing which mar­i­juana grow­ers are le­gal. Seen from a he­li­copter just be­fore har­vest sea­son, mar­i­juana grows are like a green patch­work across one south­west­ern county, one drug en­force­ment of­fi­cer said. In Deschutes County, the sher­iff and dis­trict at­tor­ney in Fe­bru­ary went pub­lic with their frus­tra­tions, say­ing the state was al­low­ing black mar­ket op­er­a­tions to pro­lif­er­ate through lack of over­sight. They asked the health au­thor­ity to pro­vide a list of med­i­cal mar­i­juana grow sites, but the agency re­fused, say­ing the law doesn’t per­mit it to pro­vide such a list. The agency could only re­spond on a case-by-case ba­sis. The health au­thor­ity said the con­fi­den­tial­ity of grow site ad­dresses is pro­tected by law, but added it’s ex­plor­ing ways to work more closely with law en­force­ment to en­sure med­i­cal mar­i­juana grow sites are op­er­at­ing legally. “Those lo­ca­tions should be made avail­able to law en­force­ment,” Deschutes County Sher­iff Shane Nel­son said Fri­day in re­ac­tion to the re­port. The re­port cited “in­ad­e­quate fund­ing and staffing re­sources to meet the de­mands of ro­bust reg­u­la­tion,” as one of its many chal­lenges. “More than 40,000 Ore­go­ni­ans de­pend on med­i­cal mar­i­juana to treat their qual­i­fy­ing med­i­cal con­di­tions,” Allen said. The re­view noted a sharp de­cline in the num­ber of med­i­cal mar­i­juana dis­pen­saries since adult-use recre­ational shops be­gan open­ing in Jan­uary 2017. That month, there were 172; by De­cem­ber 2017, there were only 19, as many med­i­cal mar­i­juana busi­nesses switched over to the recre­ational side, which is reg­u­lated by the Liquor Con­trol Com­mis­sion. Med­i­cal mar­i­juana pro­cess­ing sites dropped from 106 to 12 over the same pe­riod.

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