The Oregon House passed a bill Tuesday that makes it legal to transport cannabis across state lines.
But trading isn't about to happen anytime soon. Senate Bill 582 includes a number of important restrictions.
For example, cross-state transportation would only be allowed between states that have legalized marijuana.
But perhaps the biggest restriction in the bill is that cross-border transportation wouldn’t be allowed until the federal government permits it.
Rep. Ken Helm, D-Washington County, thinks federal permission might not be the longshot it seems. He said Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden has already sent out draft legislation aimed at this Congressional session.
“This is another instance in which Oregon can be a leader and be poised to take advantage of rational rules around the cannabis market,” Helm said.
State Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, sponsored the bill. He said it's a very strong statement by the Oregon Legislature that will reverberate across the country.
“The future of this industry is that cannabis will primarily be grown where it grows best, and most efficiently, and most sustainably. That’s what functioning legal markets do,” Prozanski said.
Oregon is producing twice as much cannabis as people are using, so growers are anxious to find other markets.
The state is also in favor of finding new markets because it doesn’t want the cannabis oversupply to get funneled into the black market. The state is worried illegal sales could prompt a federal crackdown.
“The Emerald Region, from Oregon through Northern California, is one of the best and most important cannabis-producing regions in the world,” said Adam J. Smith, executive director of the Craft Cannabis Alliance. “As we move inexorably toward regulated markets, this bill brings us one step closer to sharing Oregon's bounty, legally, with consumers everywhere."
The district of Rep. Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, encompasses a large swath of Oregon’s cannabis-producing region. He said he sees the bill as a harbinger of the future.
“This bill is a strategic business approach,” Wilson said. “It correctly assesses the industry’s strengths and foresees a time when export turns Oregon’s oversupply in a constrained market into a traded commodity in a national marketplace."
Wilson said he thought the federal stance toward cannabis could change quickly and Oregon should be poised to be a leader.
"In this arena, Oregon has competitive advantage on the nation and the world,” Wilson said.
Currently, federal law prohibits transporting any restricted substance across state lines. Cannabis is a Schedule I controlled substance, along with drugs like LSD and heroin.
Just two years ago, Oregon passed House Bill 4014 which expressly forbid both the export of cannabis across state lines and the import of cannabis from another state. Penalties for violating that law vary depending on the quantities involved, but range from a $260 fine to five years in jail and $125,000 fine.
Nevada also has a law saying it’s illegal to “import, transport, sell, exchange, barter, supply, prescribe, dispense, give away or administer a controlled or counterfeit substance.”
California’s Proposition 64 says the state doesn’t “authorize or permit a licensee to transport or distribute, or cause to be transported or distributed, marijuana or marijuana products outside the state, unless authorized by federal law.”
During his campaign, President Donald Trump said states should have the right to manage their own cannabis policies. U.S. Attorney General William Barr also pledged during his Senate confirmation hearing not to “go after” cannabis companies that comply with state laws.
Oregon’s bill now goes to Gov. Kate Brown’s desk for her signature.
Editor's note: In a previous version of this story OPB incorrectly identified the states involved. The bill was amended to no longer require states share a border with Oregon. OPB regrets the error.