Shane McKee, co-founder of Oregon medical marijuana dispensary Shango Premium Cannabis, checks the array of dried flowers on display at the shop in Portland, Ore., in November 2014. (Don Ryan, Associated Press file)

Oregon pot shops prep for Oct. 1 debut of recreational sales

PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon’s medical marijuana dispensaries are getting ready for a watershed moment this week: when recreational pot users will also be able to buy weed at their pot shops.

More than 200 of Oregon’s 345 medical marijuana dispensaries have notified the Oregon Health Authority of plans to sell recreational marijuana starting on Thursday. Though some dispensaries may not qualify right away if they’re still in the application process and haven’t been approved, OHA spokesman Jonathan Modie said. (UPDATE: The OHA has released a list of stores authorized for recreational sales.)

Oregon passed Measure 91 in November. The law legalized possessing and growing limited amounts of marijuana for personal use starting July 1. But the state won’t be ready to begin regulated sales until next year. As a temporary stop-gap and to curb black market sales, medical dispensaries are allowed to conduct early sales of recreational marijuana tax-free.

Taxes on recreational sales won’t start until Jan. 4, when a 25 percent tax on retail sales will be added.

Adults over 21 can buy a quarter ounce of buds. Candy bars, brownies and other marijuana edibles, as well as extracts, concentrates and marijuana-infused products are not available in early sales. Customers must provide a valid, government-issued photo ID as proof of age.

Ten cities and two counties have prohibited early retail sales of marijuana, including Douglas and Harney counties, Gresham, Brownsville, John Day, Junction City, La Grande, Reedsport and Sherwood.

Recreational pot has also been legalized in Washington, Colorado and Alaska, though Alaska is still figuring out how to regulate the industry.

Most dispensaries in Oregon are thrilled to start offering recreational pot, hoping to boost their sales in an already over-saturated industry. But, they say, it’s hard to know what impact adult recreational sales will have.

“It’s going to be a surprise for everybody, we’re hoping it’s really busy,” said Lois Pariseau of Gras Cannabis in Portland, a dispensary that opened four months ago. Pariseau said a lot of people have been walking into the dispensary in recent weeks, asking about the start of early sales.

The competition is stiff, she said, with several other dispensaries already open on their street. To lure recreational users, Gras Cannabis has been advertising, including in two local alternative newspapers and on two giant billboards in the city.

Pariseau said the dispensary’s budtenders are ready to educate new users about pot. And anyone wanting to buy should first understand what is and isn’t allowed.

“It’s very important for everyone to really read the rules, and follow the law to a T,” she said.

Another concern: stocking enough pot flower to meet the growing demand. The dispensary has its own pot grow, Pariseau said, but that won’t be available for several weeks until harvest starts.

A pot shortage is also the biggest worry for those in the medical marijuana community, who fear the start of recreational sales will negatively impact medical marijuana patients.

“We’re really nervous. The dispensaries might sell all the marijuana to recreational people and the patients will be left without their medicine,” said Anthony Taylor, president of Compassionate Oregon, a nonprofit group that advocates for the patients. Prices for medical marijuana might also increase, if demand outgrows supply, he said.

Taylor said supply levels at smaller and newer dispensaries might especially be impacted by recreational sales. And while adults buying recreational pot can only purchase it once a day at a given dispensary, Taylor said, people can “dispensary hop,” depleting product supply across a city.

Taylor’s group has sent a letter to dispensaries, asking them to pledge to maintain sufficient levels for medical marijuana patients and to serve patients first when there are recreational users in the store. Some have agreed to the pledge, but not all.

“We don’t expect them to turn away business,” Taylor said, “but we do hope… everybody understands that in medical marijuana dispensaries, the patients come first.”