Oregon | The Land of Many Cannabis Firsts

Oregon seems to be doing its own thing when it comes to cannabis. The state’s recreational marijuana industry has gotten attention for providing an original, craft experience for its customers. No wonder, since Oregon can tout many firsts when it comes to cannabis, including being the first state to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana possession. It has also served as a model for other states implementing medical marijuana programs, as it was the first to have a state registry for users.

Currently, it might serve as a model for what not to do when licensing growers. In an attempt to push illicit growers out of the industry, lawmakers put very few limitations on growing marijuana, and now Oregon might be the first state with a marijuana surplus so great that it may have to start destroying it.

In this post, we’ll take a look at the examples that Oregon has pioneered during its cannabis history, how it fostered a unique craft cannabis industry, and what is being suggested to tame the state’s out-of-control supply of marijuana. Excitingly, one suggestion has been to grow hemp instead!

So Many Cannabis Firsts!

Following the nationwide trend at the time, Oregon outlawed cannabis in 1923. But in 1973, it was the first state to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana possession. According to The Oregon Decriminalization Bill of 1973, possession of small amounts of marijuana was no longer a crime but reduced to a violation. Possession of up to an ounce of marijuana in Oregon was punishable only by a fine of $500 to $1000.

The Oregon Legislature tried to recriminalize small amounts of marijuana possession several times along the way, including the passing of HB 3643 in 1997, which would have made possession of less than an ounce a class C misdemeanor and added a jail sentence of up to 30 days. Activists, however, collected enough signatures to put a referendum on the bill, and ultimately the public ensured that this bill did not pass.

In 1998, Oregon was the second state, after California in 1996, to remove penalties for medical marijuana. However, it was the first state to create a state registry for medical marijuana users. The Oregon Medical Marijuana Act, which was established by Oregon Ballot Measure 67 (passing with 54.6% support), allows for the cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana by patients with doctor recommendations. A doctor could recommend for “debilitating medical conditions,” including:

  • Cachexia
  • Cancer
  • Chronic pain
  • Epilepsy and seizures
  • Glaucoma
  • HIV or AIDS
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Nausea
  • Conditions characterized by muscle spasticity

In 2004 and 2010, two more measures attempted to establish medical cannabis distribution centers, but both were defeated by voters. Interestingly, state legislators legalized dispensaries during the 2013 legislative session.

Oregon was also the first state to make marijuana anything less than a Schedule I drug. In the summer of 2010, the Oregon Board of Pharmacy reclassified marijuana from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II drug. Oregon lawmakers felt this was a logical move, considering Schedule I drugs are defined by having no recognized medical use. This would also make Oregon the first state to validate a logical argument cannabis advocates have been invoking for years.   

In 2014, Measure 91 was approved, legalizing the non-medical cultivation and uses of marijuana in Oregon starting July 1, 2015. While Oregon was not the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, it was not too far behind Colorado and Washington in 2012, and it certainly did things in its own Oregon way.

Rich Craft Cannabis Scene

In 2018, Rolling Stone described Oregon’s cannabis industry as “an epicenter for pioneering research and cannabis culture beyond retail shops.” It’s highly concerned with clean pot and educating people. It also has a penchant for polished packaging and branding that seems to have more to do with pride and artistry than with trying to market to a target audience.

This may be because Oregon’s regulations are different than a lot of other states—stricter in some areas, and looser in others. When it comes to permitted pesticides, Oregon’s list is shorter than Colorado’s and Washington’s, with considerably lower permissible quantities. The state’s Department of Environmental Quality oversees cannabis labs with its laboratory program. Every ten pounds of every strain must be tested for potency, pesticides, microbiology, water content, and residual solvents. Of course, this makes producers’ lives more difficult, but Oregon’s safety regulations have gone a long way to establish a reputation for clean pot that is a part of Oregon’s cannabis culture.

Unlike other places, Oregon regulations allow producers and stores to market their products without restraint. For example, in Canada, where recreational marijuana was just legalized, packaging and marketing are heavily regulated. The fear is that it will target minors and create an industry like Big Tobacco that makes large profits from exploitative marketing and commercialization. But the craft cannabis industry depends on curating an identity from the purity of the product to the artistry of the brand. They need to be known and recognized to compete.

Because the market is so competitive, the Oregon cannabis industry is taking advantage of the freedom to design store identities and experiences for their customers. Retail shops have to be 1,000 feet from schools or other shops. But otherwise, stores are free to craft atmospheres unique to their brand.    

As a side note, the Oregon Health Department reports that in three years since legalization, they have not seen a significant increase in youths using marijuana as they had originally feared.

Some Wrong Turns

While it has been a pioneer of cannabis law and has curated a seemingly honest, craft cannabis scene, Oregon did do something different that is not working. When implementing plans for recreational marijuana, it did not put a cap on licenses for growers or stores, nor did they give license preference to already established growers. Basically, all comers could jump in. The reason for this seeming negligence is because there was already a large illegal growing market in Oregon, and lawmakers wanted to make the legal market substantial enough to curb the black market.

The result, however, has been a glut of weed and a decline in price. In June of 2018, Oregon officials announced they would stop processing licenses in order to deal with a severe backlog. But a backlog of license applications is not the problem. The problem is a giant surplus of marijuana that might have to be destroyed.

Fortunately, some are proposing solutions, one of which could put Oregon on another list of first. Adam Smith, director of the Craft Cannabis Alliance, suggests that Oregon should be able to sell its surplus to other states that have legalized recreational weed. It’s not a radical idea, according to Smith, and he says it will incentivize growers to participate in a legal market.

Another solution that many growers are turning their focus toward is growing hemp for CBD instead of marijuana. Many of the techniques are similar between growing marijuana and hemp, so it could be a viable transition. In Oregon, the number of hemp licenses increased from 12 in 2015 to 353 as of June 2018. Once again, it looks like hemp might be the answer.


Yoshiko, L. “The Rolling Stone Guide to Legal Pot: Oregon.” Rolling Stone. 20 April 2018. Web. Accessed 14 November 2018. https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/the-rolling-stone-guide-to-legal-pot-oregon-627805/

Washburn, K. “What we’ve learned from three years of legal marijuana.” The Oregonian. 30 June 2018. Web. 14 November 2018. https://www.oregonlive.com/expo/news/erry-2018/06/932fe5664b5193/what_we_know_and_dont_know_aft.html

“Marijuana prices crashing in Oregon after state stoked weed glut.” 31 May 2018. Web. Accessed 14 November 2018. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/marijuana-prices-crashing-in-oregon-after-state-stoked-weed-glut/

McCaulou, L. “Growing pains: how Oregon wound up with way more pot than it can smoke.” The Guardian. 20 April 2018. Accessed 15 November 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/apr/20/oregon-too-much-weed-oversupply-what-happened-420

Flaccus, G. “Oregon Marijuana Growers Turning to Hemp as CBD Extract Explodes.” Insurance Journal. 18 June 2018. Web. Accessed 13 November 2018. https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/west/2018/06/18/492545.htm


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