Why Oregon sped up sales of recreational marijuana

Oregon expedited recreational sales of marijuana to start Oct. 1 as part of a compromise.

Steve Dipaola/Reuters
Buyers browse samples at Shango Cannabis shop on the first day of legal recreational marijuana sales at midnight in Oregon Oct. 1. Oregon joined Washington state and Colorado in allowing the sale of a drug that remains illegal under U.S. federal law.

Oregon became the third state to legally allow sales of marijuana to anyone over 21 Thursday, after the state legislature moved the start date forward due to the complexity of the compromise involved in the legalization bill. 

Oregon, Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and the District of Columbia have voted to legalize marijuana, but the Oct. 1 start date means the state has become the third state where marijuana is offered for recreational sale. But individual cities where the majority of residents oppose legalization, such as many in eastern Oregon, can ban sales.

"This is not just a nice little drug," said Lake Oswego Mayor Kent Studebaker, according to the Oregonian. "Regular use has caused a lot of problems."

The Oregon Legislature did not want to force the mostly rural communities opposed to marijuana to allow the drug to be sold, especially since it is still illegal under federal law, so a compromise was reached. Six counties and 13 cities have banned drug sales, while one county and eight more cities will have a ban on the ballot in November 2016. In return, sales throughout the rest of the state began Oct. 1, the Oregonian reported. 

"The legislature of their own wanton will advanced the date for retail sales," Alen St. Pierre, the director of an organization working to legalize pot, told the Los Angeles Times. "That kind of speaks to not only Oregon's progressivity on this, but also the fact that demand has been pent up and waiting under the guise of medical marijuana for at least a dozen years."

A decade of legal medical marijuana made it easy for the state to "flip the switch" with the quick change to recreational sales, Mr. St. Pierre said. 

Oregon already allowed hundreds of stores to sell marijuana to people with a medical approval card, which made the transition into recreational sales smoother. Some stores even opened at midnight on Thursday morning to take full advantage of the early start date, The Associated Press reported. Between now and January, sales of marijuana will also be tax-free - saving buyers up to 20 percent - because the state is not ready to issue retail licenses yet, the Oregonian reported.

Views of marijuana legalization have slowly tipped into the majority nationwide, although the change in public opinion has not impacted all demographics equally. Millennials have led the charge, but interest in legalizing the drug has reached 53 percent overall. This is a sharp change over the last decade, as only 32 percent wanted to legalize it in 2006, according to Pew. Of those who support its legalization, 41 percent say the drug provides valuable medical benefits, 27 percent hope legalizing the drug will produce tax revenue, and 9 percent take the view that government should not stop people from using if they want to.

Several states will face initiatives to increase legalization of marijuana in 2016, including Ohio, Arizona, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, and Massachusetts, according to the Los Angeles Times. California is on the list, too, although St. Pierre told the Times the field may be so crowded with different variations on a legalization bill that they will all lose. 

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