When Oregon voters approved Measure 91 in the midterm elections, they became the latest to say that marijuana should be taxed and regulated like alcohol. Now comes the enormous job of actually bringing the legal marijuana market to life.
The task falls to Rob Patridge, the chair of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, and its four volunteer commissioners. The group will be busy ahead of the Jan. 5, 2016 deadline for accepting applications from Oregonians who want to grow, process and sell marijuana. TIME spoke to Patridge, a former Republican state lawmaker and the current district attorney of Klamath County — proud home of Crater Lake — about his thoughts on edibles, when the market will realistically open and whether lawsuits like this one are a threat to the commission’s work.
What is your general philosophy for developing Oregon’s pot market?
We’re going out in late January and doing what we’re calling a listening tour. We’re going to go throughout Oregon to talk to the communities, local government, law enforcement, educators, the treatment community, the people who are invested in growing marijuana and selling marijuana. We’re going to listen to the impacts it’s going to have on the community and try to define how we’re going to move forward to address that as we put together the rules.
What issues do you expect to come up on this listening tour?
There’s been a lot of interest in stuff that the legislature may or may not address [like possibly allowing a special election for local jurisdictions to opt out of allowing pot shops]. There are concerns related to edibles and local government is very interested in public safety issues, how it’s going to interact with criminal laws. The issues are large but we’re going to try to break them down so we can eat the elephant one bite at a time rather than trying to eat the whole thing.
Edibles are proving to be controversial. People are concerned about kids accidentally ingesting them, wondering whether certain types should be banned. What are your thoughts about how to approach the issue?
The concern has certainly been raised, and we’re going to be proceeding with caution. I know there’s some legislative interest related to edibles. The legislature could mandate types. So the jury’s going to be out for a while … We’re watching what Colorado and Washington are doing. We’ve been in direct contact with the other states. We’ve reached out to Alaska. And we’re going to take some of our commissioners and staff there to talk about implementation. I’m not one to not learn from other people’s lessons.
At this point, do you think there are certain types of edibles that shouldn’t be on the market?
I don’t know that [certain types] should or shouldn’t be on the market. It’s about how they’re used and what’s responsible from a packaging standpoint, how they get labeled, those types of things.
In general, how is the situation going to be different in Oregon than in Washington or Colorado?
First, we’re not starting from zero. We already have a system in place for medical. We also have the benefit of seeing what’s gone on in Washington and Colorado, which they didn’t. We’re not plying new ground. The Colorado model is probably a better fit, because of how their medical marijuana is regulated. It’s similar to what we do. We’ve been fortunate that we weren’t the pioneers, even if we are the Pioneer State. We’re fortunate to gain from their knowledge, and they’ve been very free about sharing it.
What is your timeline for when legal shops will open their doors and the state will start collecting tax revenue?
We’re really on a fairly tight timeline. What I’m calling the “home grow provisions” [personal cannabis growing and possession becoming legal] come into effect July 1, 2015. Beyond that, we’ve got a whole set of rules we’ve got to deal with. We’ve got to set up a whole seed-to-sale system. And if the legislature changes the playing field, we’re going to be continually looking at that. Best case scenario, last half of 2016 before we’d be up and running. We’re trying to be very up front. A lot of people thought that in January 2016 these retail locations would pop up and people would go purchase marijuana. And that’s just not going to be the case.
The attorneys general in Oklahoma and Nebraska are suing Colorado over marijuana legalization, saying it violates the Supremacy Clause. How does that shape your thoughts about the nature of the market you’re setting up?
There’s the potential for a lot of legal challenges for Measure 91. Until it’s declared one way or another, we have to stay with what current law is. Our job under current law is to implement, and the court can do what it may. If it’s looks like it’s a substantial enough issue—if a judge issues a stay or something else happens—obviously we would work with the legislature to decide whether we should continue to spend the state’s money, of if they’d want us to wait until there was a legal resolution.
Is legal pot good for Oregon?
It’s my job to implement it as the chair of the commission. Voters made that decision. And as I’ve told everybody, I try to be a consensus builder. That’s my job, to create a process that’s transparent, that engages everybody. That’s really our role, and I’m not taking a policy position as the chair. Certainly there are arguments on all sides. It’s so early.