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Committee works on legal pot details

SALEM — A joint legislative committee Wednesday began work on bills to implement Oregon’s legal marijuana system.

Lawmakers will consider bills that cover everything from technical fixes that regulators say are necessary for a successful program, to proposals that would significantly alter Measure 91 which voters approved in November.

Their work will be closely watched by both supporters and critics of legalized pot.

Members of the committee said Wednesday night they hope to avoid problems such as pot candy and other edibles that appeal to kids in Colorado, and the initial shortage of legal recreational pot and accompanying high prices in Washington.

“I really want Oregon to be the model for what I see as a national trend in this direction,” said Sen. Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, co-chair of the joint legislative committee. “I want people to look to Oregon and say, ‘My gosh, that’s a system that really works.’”

Burdick and the other committee co-chair, Rep. Ann Lininger, D-Lake Oswego, recently returned from a trip to Colorado to learn about the state’s experience with legal recreational marijuana.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has already set to work on rules to implement Measure 91, and the commission is looking to lawmakers to address issues that could affect those rules early in the legislative session. Measure 91 gave the OLCC broad authority to regulate marijuana growers, processors, wholesalers and stores.

Under Measure 91, recreational marijuana will become legal for adults 21 and older on July 1. Retail stores will begin to sell marijuana and cannabis products sometime in 2016, after the OLCC begins to accept applications for business licenses Jan. 4, 2016.

Ten bills are currently assigned to the legislative committee, and the marijuana industry is closely watching two in particular.

Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, introduced SB 542 at the request of the League of Oregon Cities. The bill would eliminate the ban under Measure 91 on local governments passing their own sales taxes on pot and adopting ordinances to regulate or prohibit marijuana businesses.

Dozens of cities and a couple counties rushed to adopt local sales taxes on pot last year, under the theory that taxes passed before the Nov. 4 election would not be affected by the prohibition against such taxes in Measure 91. Nonetheless, some lawyers warned cities and counties could face lawsuits from the marijuana industry.

Measure 91 will send 40 percent of sales tax revenue to the Common School Fund, and 20 percent will be used to provide mental health, alcoholism and drug service. The Oregon State Police will receive 15 percent, city police will receive 10 percent and county law enforcement will receive 10 percent. The remaining 5 percent will go to the Oregon Health Authority to provide drug addiction treatment and prevention services.

Measure 91 also allows voters to approve bans on recreational marijuana at the city and county level through the citizen initiative process, but they must wait until the November 2016 election. By then, many marijuana businesses will already be open.

The marijuana industry is also following HB 2676, sponsored by Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, which would consolidate regulation of medical marijuana at the OLCC. The Oregon Health Authority currently regulates the medical program. Some medical marijuana advocates want to keep the program separate, while others in the cannabis industry support the bill.

The committee did not vote on any legislation Wednesday.

The committee expects to meet again on Monday, to discuss laboratories that test marijuana products and programs to protect children.

The golden pioneer statue sitting atop the Capitol rotunda is silhouetted by the sun in Salem. AP PHOTO.