In an effort to protect kids in one of the most pot-friendly states in the US, the Oregon Health Authority decided to ban candy laced with weed from the state’s medical marijuana dispensaries Monday.
The new draft rules amended Senate Bill 1531, signed by Governor John Kitzhaber on March 19. The bill declared an “emergency,” imposing immediate zoning regulations on dispensaries, allowing towns to place a temporary moratorium on new dispensaries, and mandating that all edibles be sealed tight in childproof packaging.
This law would have banned all cakes, cookies, candy, and gum that contain pot. But a public backlash meant that Monday’s law only rules out products that are brightly colored or shaped like animals, toys, or candies.
Oregon has 30,063 medical marijuana caregivers assigned to nearly 60,000 patients — a ratio of over two patients for every supplier. In Oregon, any medical doctor can sign someone up for an Oregon Medical Marijuana Program card for a one-time fee of $200, which is waived down to $60 if you’re on food stamps.
Dispensaries are also largely unlicensed and quasi-legal: it wasn’t until 2013 that House Bill 3460, which mandated regulating dispensaries and clinics, passed. The state didn’t start issuing licenses until March 1 of this year.
“Were there business that were open before March 1? I don’t know, I didn’t ask,” said Tom Burns, Director of Pharmacy Programs at the Oregon Health Authority (OHA). Burns told VICE News they’ve approved about 27 licenses so far statewide, and OHA plans to approach known dispensaries that don’t comply with the licensing mandate.
Yelp alone lists 19 medical marijuana clinics just in Portland city limits and those are just the ones getting reviews. You do the math.
Soon, Burns said, OHA will begin annual inspections of dispensaries similar to routine inspections at food and beverage establishments. And they’re going to keep a close watch on the way “medibles” are packaged.
“We’ll be reviewing all cannabis products on the premises. If we find an edible that appears to be marketed to kids, we will confiscate that,” Burns said, “We haven’t done an inspection yet, but obviously if somebody’s selling gummy bears we aren’t going to be happy.”
Children under 18 aren’t allowed in Oregon’s medical marijuana clinics anyway, so what’s the big deal? Burns said it’s not about whether they can shop: “It’s when the dispensary sends a parent home with 20 brightly colored gummy bear products. That’s obviously something someone is not going to take in one dose, and a kid can be drawn to it.”
“It shouldn’t look like something their mom gave them just yesterday,” Burns said.
At first, OHA attempted to ban all edibles from being sold. “We put out a conservative rule that anything that looks like a cookie, a brownie, or candy, should be banned. But the community is very good at educating,” said Burns, “They let us know that not everyone smokes and that these are useful. So we rewrote the law.”
Public outcry about the erosion of the edibles market may just shine a light on the largely recreational nature of the OMMP program.
VICE News spoke with Jason Wasserman from UDoxi Scientific, a Portland company that manufactures hydrocarbon oil extractors — the gizmos that make the cannabinoid oils and waxes popular with chronically ill medical marijuana patients. Wasserman also volunteers time with Portland’s MS Society, which holds a medical marijuana symposium on April 6. He told VICE News that MS patients in the OMMP program are unlikely to snack on brownies and lollipops to subdue their symptoms anyway.
“The edibles they’re talking about are essentially recreational,” Wasserman said. “You have to look at the efficiency of your delivery system. An orally active product has to go through your stomach and digestive system to do you any good. So you can’t say, eat this lollipop and in 20-40 minutes it might give you relief.”
“If you’re taking cannabis as a regimen throughout the day for symptom management, you would go to combustion, vaporizing and spray, or sublingual,” said Wasserman.
Wasserman believes these regulations, in fact, are going to help medical marijuana patients. “The good things about HB 3460 is it mandates testing. Testing benefits patients. If you’re calling it medicine, by definition it has to be pure according to the FDA.” He points to the purity standards enacted by Washington and Colorado when they legalized.
In February, former Portland District Attorney drug unit head Mark McDonnell announced that he wanted legislators to put legalization on this November’s ballot, saying he’s “just trying to deal with reality.”
Legalization of pot for recreational use in Oregon appears inevitable. Wasserman says the state’s biggest priority should be focusing on: “What’s going to happen to the medical system when it goes recreational in 2015.”
Follow Mary Emily O’Hara on Twitter: @maryemilyohara