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'Euphoria' over pot initiative

Marijuana supporters reacted enthusiastically Wednesday to the passage of Ballot Measure 91, while law enforcement agencies warned the public that possessing pot for recreational use will remain illegal until the new law takes effect in July 2015.

“We’re going to continue to enforce the current law on marijuana,” Jackson County sheriff’s Lt. Christine Bronson said. “We will wait until the new law is put into effect before we change.”

But supporters of medical and recreational marijuana cheered the passage, saying it gives them another level of comfort about using the drug.

“It’s a feeling of euphoria,” said Michael Monarch, chief executive officer of Green Valley Wellness LLC in Talent. “It’s like taking a hike to the highest peak.”

Monarch sells medical marijuana to patients but hopes to start selling recreational marijuana out of the same location if he can get approval from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which will regulate the sale of recreational cannabis.

“We’re poised,” Monarch said. “We’re ready.”

In statewide results, Measure 91 was ahead 55.8 percent to 44.2 percent, or 795,177 to 630,950, according to the Oregon Secretary of State on Wednesday.

In Jackson County, voters approved the measure 53 percent, or 42,950 votes, to 47 percent, or 37,803, in the latest returns released by the Jackson County Elections Center on Wednesday.

Colorado and Washington previously legalized recreational marijuana, and voters in the District of Columbia also approved legalization Tuesday night.

Under Oregon's measure, adults 21 and older can possess up to 8 ounces of dried marijuana, grow four plants, and have 1 pound of edible products, 72 ounces of liquid pot products and 1 ounce of hashish.

Public use of marijuana is banned, and it will remain a felony to sell marijuana to minors. Current driving-under-the-influence laws still apply to marijuana users. Employers can still impose drug-free workplace rules.

Recreational marijuana becomes legal July 1, 2015, and OLCC is required to adopt rules by Jan. 1, 2016, for retail marijuana outlets.

The measure set a tax rate of $35 an ounce to be collected by the state. After administrative costs, 35 percent of the tax revenues will go to state and local police departments. Another 25 percent will go to drug treatment and mental health programs. The remaining 40 percent will go to schools.

Dozens of cities across the state, including most in Jackson County, have passed additional taxes, which are expressly not allowed under Ballot Measure 91. The local governments say they hope to be "grandfathered in" on the taxes and expect the local tax issue to wind up in the courts.

Measure 91 leaves the existing Oregon Medical Marijuana Program intact.

At Green Valley Wellness, some medical marijuana patients wondered whether they needed to renew their OMMP cards, while others said they thought it was a good idea to keep their cards.

“Within the next five years, I will probably no longer pay to have a grower,” said Jake Holt, a customer at Green Valley who said he uses marijuana for chronic pain.

Holt said he thinks that marijuana will become like the wine industry, with tasting rooms and a wide variety of strains for different types of customers.

“You’ll have the equivalent of your cheap box wine, and you’ll have something for connoisseurs,” he said. “I’ve heard there’s a restaurant in Colorado that pairs food with different strains of marijuana.”

Before retail operations can be opened, the OLCC and the Legislature have a lot of work ahead of them.

OLCC Chairman Rob Patridge said his commission will begin going through an extensive rule-making process before it begins receiving applications for retail marijuana outlets by January 2016.

He said he anticipates it probably won’t be until the middle or latter part of 2016 before the licenses are issued. Patridge said delivery services are also permissible under the initiative.

Patridge said he thinks there could issues of inadequate supply of marijuana initially because marijuana growing and production sites won’t be lawful until the state’s regulatory structure is in place to monitor them.

He said the OLCC likely will face additional challenges if the Legislature decides to tweak the legalization law.

The Legislature will feel pressure from cities and counties that have initiated local taxes in addition to the statewide tax that is allowed under Measure 91, Patridge said. The Legislature will have to determine whether it will allow local taxes or provide some kind of taxing mechanism for cities and counties.

“If the Legislature chooses not do that, it could set them up for litigation,” Patridge said.

Once the Legislature makes its decision, the OLCC will continue its rule-making process.

Patridge said there is currently no upper limit on the number of retail marijuana operations permissible under Measure 91.

He said he encourages anyone with an interest in opening a retail operation or learning more about the latest developments to visit the state’s website at marijuana.oregon.gov.

While the Legislature, the public and the OLCC implement marijuana legalization, law enforcement agencies locally don’t have any plans to change how they do business until at least July 2015.

Jackson County District Attorney Beth Heckert said her office will continue to analyze marijuana-related crimes on a case-by-case basis.

“It’s still against the law until the new law takes effect,” she said.

Heckert said her office prosecuted very few marijuana cases, and for those involving less than an ounce, it is considered a misdemeanor and doesn’t go through her office.

She said her office will help prosecute cases in which marijuana is being transported across state lines.

Joe Charter, Jackson County Justice Court judge, said it could be difficult during this transition period to go after pot scofflaws.

“I think we’re going to wait and see and take it on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

Charter said that by the time a case ends up in his court and he pronounces the sentence, many months have passed since the initial crime. As it is, marijuana-related crimes that he sees don’t come with severe penalties.

For instance, last summer a sheriff’s deputy cited three minors for smoking pot along the river. Charter said he just recently fined them $325 each, though they could have received the maximum fine of $650.

In another case, a mother-in-law loaned her car to her son-in-law, who was pulled over during a traffic stop. “He pulls open the glove box and a baggy with marijuana falls out,” Charter said. After determining the pot belonged to the mother-in-law, Charter dismissed the case with a warning to the woman to keep better track of her medical marijuana.

Other issues likely will come up, including driving while impaired with marijuana or smoking in public, he said.

Medford police Chief Tim George said his officers will continue to operate under the old law.

“Unless we get direction from a prosecutor, nothing changes until July 1,” he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Michael Monarch of Green Valley Wellness sorts varieties of marijuana on the dispensary's shelves. Monarch says he hopes to expand his business to include recreational pot. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell