It’s been almost a full year since recreational cannabis first went on sale in Oregon – and the first licensed retail shops are set to open their doors on October 1st. However, there are a few issues that might just stand in the way of that deadline.
When Oregon first started their early access program last October, it was understood that medical marijuana dispensaries would be able to sell to adults 21 and older for a limited time – those wishing to convert to retail sales will have that opportunity, but current policies are causing them to hold off on that shift.
When a medical dispensary switches over to a retail dispensary, they are required to only sell products that are tested by labs that are accredited by the Oregon Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (OELAP). Unfortunately, due to the large demand for inspecting and licensing laboratories for cannabis – and a last minute rush of applicants as well – the current number of employees available to inspect these labs simply isn’t enough. The Oregon Health Authority had originally asked for an additional 3 employees to help with licensing and inspecting – and months later they still have seen no additional hires.
Now, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has sent out one full-timer and two part-time employees to help dig the OHA out of their hole. The lack of accredited labs could be a problem for opening retail dispensaries on time, seeing as having only the current few accredited labs would not be enough with far more product needing tested than there are labs to test it. This would leave growers unable to sell their product to dispensaries and dispensaries without product to stock their shelves.
A sort of temporary fix to this problem, at least until the OELAP (with the help of the Department of Environmental Quality) is able to get more labs accredited, may be to allow existing medical marijuana dispensaries to convert to retail, while still being allowed to sell their existing inventory. Instead of forcing them to discard inventory they have (which is tested, but not by an accredited lab), they would be able to sell any inventory they still have on their shelves – after entering it into the seed-to-sale system. This is supposed to help avoid a lack of supply come October while simultaneously creating an incentive for medicinal dispensaries to make the switch to retail sooner.
If this type of plan were to be finalized, dispensary owners might be more keen to convert – hopefully allowing the recreational cannabis industry to open on time – October 1st – just as planned. By the time January rolls around, all shops hoping to sell to recreational users will need to be licensed as a retail shop and medicinal shops will go back to selling only to patients who have registered with the state. Hopefully these few changes, and the addition of a couple more sets of hands, will be enough for the Oregon Health Authority to have the industry ready to be turned over to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission as planned.