Budtenders at the medical marijuana dispensary Kaya Shack help a customer choose her products, in Portland, Ore., on Friday, June 26, 2015. Adult possession and use of recreational marijuana became legal July 1; lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow existing medical dispensaries to start selling to recreational customers this fall. (Gosia Wozniacka, Associated Press)

Oregon opens door to legal pot; retail sales still in works

WILLIAMS, Ore. — Forty-two years after Oregon became the first state to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, the state is taking its first steps along a road leading to state-licensed stores selling limited amounts of it to anyone over 21.

“Oregon has long been a pioneer on sensible marijuana policies,” said Anthony Johnson, chief petitioner on Measure 91, which on Wednesday makes Oregon the fourth state to adopt laws legalizing recreational use of cannabis for people old enough to drink.

He added though that he doesn’t expect much increased demand for it.

Smoking it in public is illegal, but in Portland police are discouraging residents from calling 911 to report smokers.

The Portland chapter of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws posted on its website that it would have a tent set up on the west side of the Burnside Bridge for a midnight countdown to the end of marijuana prohibition.

The site offers a big neon sign in the shape of Oregon as a background for selfies of revelers who light up.

Adults will be allowed to possess up to half a pound and grow four plants, but not to buy or sell it yet. It will be a few months to more than a year before it is legal to sell, and then only with a state permit.

The Legislature is considering a bill to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to start selling small amounts to anyone over 21 on Oct. 1, in order to get over the incongruity of marijuana being legal to have and to grow, but not to buy.

The state-regulated retail system is not expected to be fully up and running until late next year. Growers are expected to be able to start applying for licenses in January, with permits for processers, wholesalers and retailers rolling out in succession.

Growers are already gearing up, particularly in southern Oregon, long known as a prime climate for outdoor growing.

Jackson County Building Services Director Kelly Madding said they have received 17 complaints over the past six months of marijuana growers violating land use laws. Trees along a creek were cut down, and a vernal pool, habitat for a protected species of freshwater shrimp, was bulldozed. Four citations have been issued.

“With the legalization of recreational marijuana, I think that we are seeing a move to our area by people who may be from out of state, out of the area, who don’t really know or understand our land-use laws and our environmental protections,” she said.

Once a month, veteran medical marijuana growers and hopeful newbies gather in the old Grange hall in the community of Williams to hear the latest updates on the Legislature’s progress on framing regulations, and tips on how to grow healthy happy marijuana plants.

“It’s really a hostile business environment. But things are improving,” said Cedar Grey, the growers guild president and a local homebuilder who along with his wife grow medical marijuana and hope to move into growing for retail.