A clone marijuana plant for sale is displayed at CannaMedicine in Salem, Ore., on Oct. 1, 2015. (Brent Drinkut, Statesman-Journal via AP)

Working in unison: Oregon pot bills find easy passage through Legislature

SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon Legislature may be in the midst of a divisive session, but among the few issues Democrats and Republicans seem to agree on is pot.

Three proposals that would alter the ways in which legal marijuana is bought, sold and regulated in Oregon gained momentum at the Capitol this week with relatively minimal debate or discord among partisan policymakers, pleasing many industry advocates who had been rallying for the changes. Some of the issues these proposals address were, by contrast, points of dispute just a year ago when lawmakers were laying the groundwork to legalize marijuana.

On Tuesday morning, House Bill 4094, a measure that would exempt banks from state criminal liability for doing business with the marijuana industry, moved to the Senate after gaining almost unanimous support in the House by a 56-3 vote. Financial institutions have been extremely wary to serve the pot industry because cannabis is still illegal under federal law, forcing marijuana businesses to operate on an almost entirely cash-basis.

Rep. Tobias Read, D-Beaverton, who is sponsoring the proposal, said HB 4094 aims to address at least some of those concerns at the state level.

“However you may feel about the underlying issue of marijuana legalization, I hope that you will agree with me that having an entire segment of the economy, a growing industry, based on cash is not a good thing. Duffel bags of cash are not good for public safety, they’re not good for the collection of required tax revenue,” Read said before his colleagues casted their votes. “I admit that the best solution to this is probably federal. Maybe you are more optimistic about Congress’s inclination to take this issue on than I am, but I don’t want to wait.”

Later that afternoon, a committee of both House and Senate lawmakers tasked with rolling out legalization unanimously approved Senate Bill 1511, which proposes to allow recreational dispensaries to sell medical marijuana to patients tax-free, affording businesses and consumers more options and convenience.

SB 1511, which now moves to the Senate for vote, is noteworthy because it would integrate the recreational marijuana and medical marijuana systems, which are currently governed separately by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and the Oregon Health Authority, respectively. The bill also would allow recreational consumers 21 and over to buy marijuana-infused edibles and concentrates, something currently available to only medical patients, as part of the state’s early sales program that began in October.

Another pot proposal, House Bill 4014, cleared the House on Monday with broad support in a 48-11 vote. That bill, now up for Senate approval, would allow out-of-state investors to enter Oregon’s burgeoning pot industry by rescinding the existing two-year residency requirement on license applicants. Lawmakers initially thought that restriction would help ensure small, local businesses could thrive, but they changed course after industry advocates complained it hampered their abilities to access enough capital from investors.