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Pot exports: What are they smoking?

It might seem like a simple problem of supply and demand: Oregon marijuana producers are buried in a product whose price has plummeted since legalization, threatening their future profitability. If something isn’t done, many of Oregon’s fledgling marijuana businesses may not survive.

Meanwhile, other states are jumping on the legalization bandwagon, but Oregon — especially Southern Oregon — is one of the best places to grow it. And Oregon growers are highly skilled, thanks to decades of experience growing medical marijuana.

So why not export this valuable crop to other states where it is legal?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

A marijuana business association called the Craft Cannabis Alliance is working with lawmakers, including Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, to introduce legislation that would let Oregon start exporting marijuana to other states where it is legal by 2021. Wholesalers could ship the product across state lines if the governor reached an agreement with the receiving state. Shipments would not cross through states where marijuana is still illegal.

There are several problems with this idea. First, and most important, marijuana remains illegal under federal law, which means transporting it across state lines is a federal offense. Federal authorities generally have taken a hands-off approach to activity within states, but federal drug enforcement officials have made it clear legalization states must crack down on black-market exports or face enforcement action.

It’s hard to imagine another state agreeing to accept shipments of Oregon weed given that reality.

Then there is that pesky supply-and-demand problem. California and Washington, neighboring states with legalized marijuana, are experiencing the same problem of oversupply and plummeting prices, so they aren’t likely to be interested in importing even more. California, for instance, is producing an estimated 15.5 million pounds of cannabis but residents are consuming only 2.5 million pounds.

California, too, sees exports as a potential solution to its oversupply problem, but not until it becomes legal nationwide.

So even if Oregon eventually manages to sell its newest cash crop to other states, it will have plenty of competition.

Ultimately, national legalization is the only way to normalize the market. But Congress has shown little interest in moving in that direction, so for now, visions of exporting Oregon-grown marijuana are little more than a pipe dream.