On July 12, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), which oversees Oregon’s Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP), issued a report on the “administrative shortcomings” that are hampering the OMMP’s mission. According a press release, OHA’s director, Patrick Allen, “requested the study in response to changing demands on OMMP in the wake of voter approval of legalized recreational marijuana sales.” Oregon legalized recreational marijuana in 2014 and medical marijuana in 1998.

Allen said: “We are taking steps to maintain the integrity of Oregon’s medical marijuana program and make sure medical products reach the patients who need them. The actions we’re taking include better tracking of growers, better enforcement, and making sure product that fails testing has been destroyed.”

The report makes clear that the OMMP is overwhelmed. Reporting and tracking of growers? According to Allen, “monthly compliance has been historically low, ranging between 26 percent and 42 percent during 2017.” The OMMP is also not keeping up on grow sites, as it “lacks reliable, independent tools to validate grow site addresses.” This has frustrated law enforcement efforts to separate legal grows from illegal ones. According to the OMMP, there are more than 20,000 grow sites in Oregon, but only 58 were inspected. The “OMMP does not have sufficient staff to conduct the number of inspections that would deter grower non-compliance.” Finally, at the other end of the supply chain, the OMMP does not have a sufficient system for verifying that noncompliant products are destroyed.

Although the report is unsparing of its assessment of an agency that does not have the capacity to regulate Oregon’s recreational market, the study also “acknowledges that OMMP successfully established and administered a program that provides more than 40,000 patients dependable access to medical cannabis.” Given the rapid pace of change in the marijuana market, it should not be surprising that regulatory agencies are struggling to catch up. The release cites “Chronic underfunding and understaffing has affected OMMP’s ability to meet the demands of robust regulation, particularly in the years immediately following the legalization of recreational sales in Oregon.”

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In a cover letter to the report, Allen writes: “Rapid changes in the wake of legal recreational sales brought an influx of growers and dispensaries into the market and under OMMP regulation, which put new strains on OMMP’s administrative and oversight capacity. OMMP struggled to respond to local law enforcement requests to verify grower addresses and navigate statutory restrictions on the information it could share. Statutory restrictions on information-sharing with law enforcement and OMMP’s lack of resources and procedures to keep up with grow site address verifications and inspections risk undermine the integrity of the medical marijuana program and create the potential for marijuana product to be diverted from patients and into illegal sales.”  

The report may be read as an administration’s cry for help, essentially by admitting that it does not have the capacity to fulfill its mission. While such a cry may be familiar among bureaucrats, the frankness of this report makes it seem likely that the OMMP truly does need some more support to do its job properly. The state government of Oregon, however, may be slow to respond, given that the budget is estimated to be $1.7 billion in the red.

What do you think? Will the OMMP be able to hire some more inspectors? Leave a comment below.

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