Oregon Joins Weed Wagon

Lines out the door, but the consequences loom

It was a strange day in Roseburg, Oregon a (suddenly infamous) city of more than 21,000 people about halfway between Eugene and Grant’s Pass on Highway 5.

Roseburg was the scene of a community college shooting that left 10 dead.

On the same day, Cougar Cannabis began selling varieties of marijuana to anyone over the age of 21. For owner Shellie Grammer, it was an emotional day.

“Roseburg allows us to open at 9 (a.m.) and there has been a line out the door all day. Just now it’s starting to slow down,” she said at about 7:30 p.m.

At Cougar Cannabis, grams range in price from $6 to $15, with an eighth of an ounce selling for $20 to $50, and a quarter ounce ranging from $40 to $95.

Related: Edible Weed is Half Baked

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Grammer was excited about the sales flowing through her doors, but saddened by the shooting at Umpqua Community College. When asked about the projected economic benefit to Oregon, Grammer said she wasn’t sure.

“I haven’t seen anything from the state. The Cannabis Association throws around a lot of numbers,” she said.

“Legalization laws are being written by lobbyists who have one goal – to make their clients rich. And you don’t get rich in the drug business from casual users – you rely on heavy users.”

Why is all of this relevant? Because on Oct. 1 at 12 a.m., medical dispensary stores across Oregon opened to sell recreational marijuana.

This event marks the end of a yearlong initiative, after 56 percent of Oregon voters passed Measure 91 last November. The measure made it legal for adults age 21 and older to use, possess, and cultivate marijuana. Beginning in July of this year, businesses began preparing to open their doors to recreational users.

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Oregon follows other states that have also legalized pot, including Colorado, Washington, and Alaska. However, the Oregon bill comes with an added measure for those who began using pot before it was legal: All criminal records will be wiped clean. Users in Colorado and Washington still have a black mark on their criminal records (and some of them are still in state jails), but Oregon users get to start over clean.

Adults can now begin growing the drug privately, up to four plants per residence. And the profits can earn growers a pretty penny. The going price right now is $15 per gram, and $80 per quarter ounce. That’s a “high” return on a closet garden.

Related: Big Marijuana’s Big Debut

But the growers aren’t the only ones raking in cash. The Oregon sLegislature set a base tax for recreational marijuana at 17 percent, and a temporary 25 percent tax for the recreational marijuana sold in medical dispensaries. These taxes, according to estimates, will bring in $10.7 million in state revenue between 2015 and 2017. And 40 percent of that revenue will be used in the state’s common school fund.

“It will take 20 years to assess the damage — from mental health, school dropouts, and other factors. I worry about this new policy.”

Pat Bringenburg, who lives in Denver, Colorado, and who voted to legalize marijuana in her state (even though she has never used the drug herself), said marijuana sales have resulted in a booming economy.

“You want to see the effect of legalized marijuana?” she asks. “Take a look at the amount of traffic on I-70. There are stores popping up everywhere, and the state is raking in the cash.”

But greed for short-term economic gain may obscure longer term consequences, said Kevin Sabet, who has served as an adviser on drug policy to three presidential administrations.

With Patrick Kennedy Jr., he founded SAM, or Smart Approaches to Marijuana. In an interview with LifeZette, he said Oregonians shouldn’t kid themselves.

“Legalization laws are being written by lobbyists who have one goal — to make their clients rich. And you don’t get rich in the drug business from casual users. You rely on heavy users.

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“If we have learned anything from the brief time marijuana has been legal in Colorado, it is this: We have now entered the age of corporate cannabis,” he said.

Sabet is now director of the Drug Policy Institute and assistant professor at the University of Florida College of Medicine, in the division of addiction medicine in the psychiatry department. He said today’s pot industry is a whole new ball game from what many remember.

“Gone are the tie-dye shirts and ponytails protesting around a drum circle. Now we have entered the age of slick advertising, child-friendly product placement, and companies that spend more on PR and lawyers than they do creating safe products,” Sabet said. “It reminds me a lot of Big Tobacco, an industry relying on creating heavy users that start at young ages. That’s why we have pot gummy bears and other kid-friendly products.”

When asked whether legalized pot sales were a good thing for Oregon, Mikenzie, 22, a sales girl at Meg’s Marijuana in Eugene, Oregon, said, “For the most part, I would say yes, but I feel a little unsure about it.”

For now she’s happy to have a job, and the business.

“It’s been steady all day. There were people lined up outside the door before we opened and a long line all day, but no super long wait,” she said.

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The sales may be quick. The effects will take longer, Sabet said.

“It may take some time for Oregon to feel how devastating this will be — I’m not saying the sky will fall. But I’d ask people to think about this for a minute: Are your relationships enhanced when your friends or family are smoking marijuana? Does marijuana make for safer roads? Better workplaces? Smarter students? More corporate marijuana means more people using. How does that make Oregon students and the workforce more competitive?” he said.

“It will take 20 years to assess the damage — from mental health, school dropouts, and other factors — but I worry about this new policy. And apparently Coloradans do too. Most localities have actually banned the sales of recreational marijuana within their city limits. Denver, of course, has not. But this tells me that many Coloradans do not want a marijuana store on Main Street. I have a feeling this will happen in Oregon, too.”

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