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Oregon Legislature Furthers Urban Rural Divide with Marijuana and Self-Serve Gas Laws

Friday, June 19, 2015


A debate about the urban rural divide in Oregon has raged in years and doesn’t seem like it will calm down soon. This year’s Democratic controlled legislature seems poised to further expose the rift with rural Republicans being all too complicit. This time the favoritism is falling on the Eastern side of the Cascades. The only thing that is certain is that after this session, you will have to look very closely to find out if Oregon laws apply to you the same way they apply to someone in a neighboring county or city (or even depending on the time of day).

During the current session, the legislature has already passed one measure that creates a different standard for Oregon’s smaller counties. The measure, House Bill 3011, will allow self-service gasoline in rural Oregon. A second measure, HB 3400 appears to have cleared hurdles needed to get the votes to be passed soon as well. The measure will make it easier for rural Oregonian cities and counties to prohibit the sale of recreational marijuana, despite a statewide vote permitting it. The map below shows how the laws will differ in each of Oregon’s 36 counties.

Rural Oregonians Access to Self-Service Gasoline Appears Imminent

While the concerns that prompted Oregon to ban self-service gasoline in 1951 have long since been gone, the state’s laws have not kept up. While the justification for continuing this practice statewide is slim at best, the legislature seems to have thrown a bone to rural interests in passing House Bill 3011 by giving them a carve out. Chalk up a win for Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, an affable conservative who has toiled in the trenches of being in the minority party long enough to score wins along the way.

The self-service measure grants authority to counties with less than 40,000 in population to allow self-service, strangely enough, only between 6pm-6am when nobody is present. The arguments in favor of HB 3011 seem to focus on the negative economic impact of requiring an attendant pump gas, but are silent when it comes to why the same is not true in more populated areas, where stations also close at during the same time frame because it is not economical to remain open. 

Supporters of the measure say it raises the cost of gas 3-5% to employ attendants yet HB 3011 offers no assurances that counties that may allow self-service will lower their prices accordingly. In fact, if you look at average gas prices, Oregon is currently nearly 4 cents cheaper per gallon than in Washington, where drivers pump their own gas.

Perhaps the strongest argument in continuing a ban on self-service gasoline is tied back to the jobs it creates. This measure surely has attendants on edge. Jack Morton, a fuel attendant in Enterprise recently said in testimony that “this bill will cost jobs and income in already stressed lower populated counties,” an apt point Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, himself a rural legislator, seems to be forgetting.

Déjà vu All Over Again

When prohibition of alcohol was repealed in America, states were given great leeway in implementing the re-legalization of alcohol creating a patchwork maze of laws. While marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, the state of Oregon seems to be taking comparable steps, allowing more conservative communities to opt-out of selling pot.

HB 3400 will implement last year’s Ballot Measure 91, legalizing recreational marijuana in Oregon.  Oregon voters approved a measure that would require 10% of the electorate sign a petition and a vote of the people occur in order to implement a local ban. HB 3400 dismantles that. It makes it easier for local jurisdictions to ban both medical and recreational marijuana. If a jurisdiction voted less than 45% in support of the ballot measure, no public vote is required. If it was passed (or failed by less than 55%) majority, a ban must go to a vote, though the 10% requirement is removed.

As late as last week, there seemed to be consensus for the implementation measure without a local carve out. At that point Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli insisted a provision that made it easier to opt-out be included. 

Anthony Johnson, the Chief Sponsor of Measure 91 is not supportive of this provision, though he may well lose this battle. Johnson, speaking on behalf of New Approach Oregon, the organization that helped pass the ballot measure said, “we don’t support changes to make it easier for local jurisdictions to ban marijuana sales.  Measure 91 was laid out in line with how to ban alcohol and we think that's the appropriate way. This is going to exacerbate problems with unregulated or illicit market.”

However, industry insider Casey Houlihan suggest this provision may well have a silver lining, saying “cities and counties have a playbook to essentially ban these establishments anyway. Because of federal law, they have ample tools in their tool box.” Adding “what this portion of the measure does is it prevents lots of fighting and litigation that could be far more harmful to cannabis legalization efforts in the state, and gives municipal leaders the chance to craft local retail cannabis policy on their own terms.”

Collectively, these measures are a coup of sorts for those who’ve wanted more localized control on issues that pass on a statewide ballot. For many years those efforts have been swatted down. So long as Senator Ferrioli continues to amass clout, he will ensure laws continue to be a patchwork laws that impact folks differently based on where you live. 

As you can see from the map, this is East versus West lining up to live under very different rules from one another. If you overlay a map of Senator Ferrioli’s district, you see that all but a fraction of one of the many counties in his district benefit from both measures.


Related Slideshow: Ten Things to Know About Marijuana Legalization in Oregon

Here are ten things you need to know now that pot is legal in Oregon.

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1) Drug testing will continue

Despite marijuana being as legally permissible as a pint of beer, many of the largest employers of Oregonians will continue to include marijuana in their employee drug screens. 

Fred Meyer, one of the largest employers across the state, said the company plans to continue drug testing its Oregon employees regardless of the new law. 

Melinda Merrill, Fred Meyer communications director, said the company employs truck drivers, heavy equipment operators and other positions that require drug screening. 

“We have to make our employees safe,” Merrill said.

Companies that employ heavy equipment operators are required to buy insurance. Companies that employ workers who operate machinery while simultaneously employing workers who do not are sometimes offered a lower monthly deductible if they test all of their employees across the board, as opposed to only testing a portion.

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2) Your neighborhood dealer may be able to stay in business

The average price for marijuana in Oregon is among the lowest in the nation at sightly over $9 per gram, according to data collected by priceofweed.com.

The economy for recreational pot in Washington failed to gain the footing that was expected by some experts. The notion of Seattle being crowned as the new Amsterdam went up in smoke after consumers saw how the state’s taxes increased the price of marijuana - three joints can run a Washington customer $75, while a gram of the plant’s dried flowers cost around $30.

While the taxation in Oregon isn’t expected to bump prices that high, customers who have grown accustomed to the state’s high quality, low-price buds and hash oils may turn their noses up at even the slightest increase.

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3) Taxes on pot will be different than Washington and Colorado laws

Marijuana sold from licensed vendors in Oregon will carry taxes of $35 per ounce on marijuana flowers, $10 per ounce on all marijuana leaves and trimmings and a $5 tax on all immature plants or clones. The tax rates will be reevaluated every two years and adjusted for inflation. The revenue will be allocated to support government services - 40 percent will support public schools, 20 percent will support law enforcement, 20 percent will support mental health and 5 percent will support the Oregon Health Authority.

State-licensed vendors may still face obstacles, however, when it comes to their federal income taxes. Internal Revenue Section code 280E denies any tax deductions and credits for businesses that traffic any controlled substances that are prohibited under federal law.

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4) You can’t smoke up wherever you please

The law stipulates that use of marijuana, including injection, ingestion and inhalation of the drug is prohibited in public places. In other words, you won't constanty be seeing (or smelling) people lining sidewalks lighting up a joint.

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5) There are also restrictions on growing

No one is permitted to have more than four marijuana plants at a time - considerably less than the 12 plants that Washington residents are allowed to grow. The law also restricts plants being grown in public view.

Sorry, window-sill gardeners.

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6) Marijuana DUIs may be addressed in future legislation

Unlike the Washington law, which included attached regulations concerning driving impairment, Oregon’s law has more room for interpretation. 

Driving under the influence of marijuana is classified as a class b traffic violation, which carries a presumptive fine of $260 and is not to exceed maximum fine of $2,000. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has been tasked with researching the subject of drugged driving and presenting its finding to the Oregon Legislative Assembly no later than January 2017.

After reviewing the OLCC report, the state legislative assembly will decide whether passing more extensive driving regulations will be necessary.

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7) Legalization won't take effect until summer.

Anyone over 21 will be allowed to possess small amounts of marijuana for their personal use from July 1, 2015.

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8) Crossing the Columbia River with a state-licensed spliff will catch you a felony

Although marijuana is simultaneously legal in Oregon and Washington, it's illegal to transfer the drug between the two states.

Measure 91 is only applicable to Oregon and marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Even with a physician’s subscription, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance - meaning that anyone transporting it across state lines is prosecutable by federal agencies. 

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9) Legalization could mean big money for financial service startups

It’s not just the vendors whose businesses will grow under legalization - companies like Greenpay are expected to expand rapidly once the new legal market gets its footing. Greenpay would allow consumers to instantly purchase marijuana using their smartphones.

Greenpay is a wholly-owned subsidiary of MyEcheck - a publicly traded company whose shares typically trade for less than ten cents on the New York Stock Exchange. With legalization efforts gaining momentum around the country, companies providing auxiliary services for the marijuana industry may create an economic boom.

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10) It’s spreading like the plague

In an interview with GoLocalPDX, proponents of Measure 91 said they’re focused on achieving legalization for other states, including California, in the 2016 election.


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