Oregon lawmakers on Monday took up their first marijuana-related budget request since voters said yes to legalizing the drug for recreational use, referring it to the Emergency Board without a recommendation.
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the agency charged with implementing the new law, asked for $ 583,000 to cover four staff salaries and professional services and travel for the next six months. The funding is intended to pay for staff and services until the beginning of July, the start of the next fiscal year.
Typically, subcommittees make recommendations to the Emergency Board about whether a funding request should be approved. The Joint Subcommittee on Education instead voted to send it along without a recommendation, a move supported by Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, and Sen. Rod Monroe, D-Portland.
The Emergency Board is scheduled to meet Wednesday to consider the request.
Monday’s vote was a sign that some lawmakers have reservations about the state’s new marijuana policy.
Girod highlighted what he sees as excessive possession and home cultivation limits in the law. Households can have up to four marijuana plants and individuals 21 and older can possess up to 8 ounces at home and 1 ounce away from home.
“There are some major, major problems in this ballot measure,” he said.
Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, said he expects a legislative committee to address issues around implementing the law and encouraged his colleagues to support start-up funding so the state can get to work.
“I would recommend we begin the work to implement the will of the voters,” he said.
He said the liquor control commission is under a tight deadline to draft rules and issue licenses to marijuana growers, processors and retailers.
“I would like to give them the resources they need to do the work they need to do,” he said.
The liquor control commission initially sought $ 333,000 to pay for four positions — a program manager, two policy analysts and a public affairs staffer. The state’s Chief Financial Office recommended adding $ 250,000 to cover travel expenses, as well as legal advice from the Oregon Department of Justice and other professional services.
According to the request, which was filed with the emergency board last week, the additional funding will provide the liquor control commission “with resources to begin a more robust implementation strategy in recognition of the short implementation timeline.”
The liquor control commission, which by law is charged with implementing and overseeing marijuana regulation, has until the end of 2015 to develop rules for licensing and regulating marijuana production and sales.
The law says the state must begin accepting license applications by early 2016.
According to the state, the salary range for the program manager is $ 6,998 to $ 10,306 per month; the policy analysts will be paid between $ 4,979 and $ 7,701 per month and the public affairs specialist’s salary will be between $ 5,231 and $ 7,343 per month.
Once implemented, the marijuana program is expected to have up to 30 employees and a budget of about $ 6.4 million per biennium, wrote Michelle Deister, the state fiscal analyst who prepared the request for the emergency board.
“That said, ultimately the number of employees and therefore personal services expenditures will be dependent on the number of licensees,” she wrote.
Deister’s analysis outlined the complex issues the new staff must address, such as: where marijuana production, processing, and retail facilities will be located; how licensed businesses may advertise; how marijuana will move from the wholesale to the retail market; whether medical and recreational cannabis may be sold from the same retail outlet; how to track marijuana as it moves through the system so the state can determine taxes and prevent leakage into the illicit market; how to collect taxes; inspection and auditing procedures; determination of civil penalties for violations; and determining the extent to which testing will be regulated.
Deister said marijuana program staff will also be responsible for choosing the computer system that will track financial reports and data from each licensee; process license applications and investigate the backgrounds of applicants; inspect licensed premises; audit and reconcile tax and sales reports and account for fees, taxes, and revenue distribution.
— Noelle Crombie