Heavy marijuana consumers likely to stay away from regulated retail market, OLCC report concludes

Heavy marijuana consumers likely to stay away from regulated retail market, OLCC report concludes


Oregonians may consume as much as 4.1 million ounces of marijuana – roughly enough for 115 million joints – in 2017, the year after regulated marijuana sales are expected to begin, according to a new analysis by the state.

Using public health surveys, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission examined potential overall marijuana consumption in 2017. The analysis estimates the state stands to bring in between $ 5.5 million and $ 29 million in revenue that year, and that the bulk of those sales are likely to involve casual marijuana consumers.

The heaviest consumers are expected to stick with their current sources, which include the black market and the medical marijuana program, according to the state’s analysis.

The report, prepared by Peter Noordijk, an OLCC policy analyst, underscores the steep challenges facing policy makers and lawmakers as they design a regulated retail industry intended to draw the state’s marijuana consumers away from the illicit market.

“We have fairly mature marijuana markets in Oregon right now,” Noordijk told the commission. “We are butting into an existing framework.”

It’s a key issue considering that when it comes to marijuana in Oregon, 5 percent of adults use an estimated 70 percent of the cannabis consumed here, Noordijk reports. He said public health surveys found that the heaviest consumers use more each time.

Once the program is established, production costs may drop, lowering retail prices and luring heavy consumers, said Noordijk. He said Washington, where medical marijuana is unregulated, has seen a similar trend.

According to the report, 55 percent of Oregonians who consumed marijuana between 2002 and 2011 reported that the last time they used the drug, they got it for free. Ten percent of frequent users reported using marijuana they grew themselves. (The data doesn’t break down medical marijuana consumption verses recreational use. It also was collected before the state implemented a regulated medical marijuana dispensary system.)

The numbers looked a little different when it comes to the volume of marijuana Oregonians consumed between 2002 and 2011. Of all marijuana consumed during that time period, 63 percent was purchased and 28 percent was shared, Noordijk said.

His analysis found that marijuana consumers tend to get the drug from friends, family or other individuals; friends and family accounted for 91 percent of marijuana purchases. Seventy-one percent of Oregonians bought their cannabis in someone’s home.

“Most people are not buying it out on the street corner,” he told the commission.

It’s not clear what impact the existing medical marijuana market will have on a regulated recreational one. Medical marijuana is expected to be cheaper and patients can possess and grow more than they can under the recreational marijuana law.

If the costs to stay in the medical marijuana program remain the same – roughly $ 350 a year in doctor and state fees – he estimates that 81 percent of marijuana consumed would fall outside of the regulated retail market.

He also noted that it’s impossible to know how much of Oregon’s marijuana demand is met by the state’s medical marijuana program, either from patients and caregivers who share or from growers who produce the drug.

Based on July grow site data from the Oregon Health Authority, which oversees the medical marijuana program, more than 10,000 grow sites listed more than one patient.

Noordijk said it’s possible that growers in the medical marijuana program already produce enough marijuana to meet Oregonians’ demand for the drug.

Rob Patridge, chairman of the liquor control commission, said it will be difficult for the state’s recreational marijuana program to compete with the medical one, where sales of the drug are regulated but production is not. He said medical marijuana growers already feed the lucrative black market, another factor competing with the regulated market.

“It’s a difficult needle to thread,” said Patridge, who also serves as Klamath County district attorney. “The OLCC is going to do its best job to put into place a system that’s safe and responsible. It’s hard to compete with an unregulated system.”

— Noelle Crombie


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