Tom Burns, director of marijuana programs for Oregon, talks about road ahead; Q&A

Tom Burns, director of marijuana programs for Oregon, talks about road ahead; Q&A


Tom Burns, director of marijuana programs for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, sat down with The Oregonian recently to talk about his experience as medical marijuana dispensary director and his new post.

Burns, 61, a veteran Oregon Health Authority administrator, will advise the liquor control commission, the agency charged with overseeing implementation of the state’s new marijuana law.

Here’s a look at his take on some of the issues around marijuana policy in Oregon:

Under the dispensary law, marijuana can’t be visible to the public, so many establishments have frosted glass and other design features that prevent the public from seeing the product. Burns thinks that should change.

Burns: “If it’s going to be legal, let’s stop hiding it behind walls and doors. You can put security systems in place and make sure no one gets to the product.

“You give a different message to the community and to your patrons about what’s going on inside if you don’t have open windows and light. … It’s time to let people see what’s going on. It will cause a dialogue among the supporters and opponents and that dialogue always leads to better outcomes.”

On his views about marijuana before taking the dispensary program manager post in 2013:

“I really had no opinion. I had heard that it worked. I heard people got benefits from it, but I am also from the pharmaceutical industry that says you can’t make those statements unless you can prove them and I also knew that there’s no proof. It was all anecdotal. Spending a lot of time with patients, there are clearly patients who get a huge amount of benefit. Is it the placebo effect? We know that the placebo effect works — or is it truly something that works when you inhale or ingest the product? I am not a enough of a scientist to answer that question, but I do think that it’s time for that public discussion to occur so that we can answer on the medical side how best to use what appears to be something that works to treat whatever the illness is that that drug — and it clearly is a drug — will treat.”

On his perceptions of the medical marijuana industry:

“I expected to see long-haired hippies coming out of the woods wearing tie-dyed T-shirts. That is not the face of the marijuana business community. The business community are young, bright, articulate, educated business people who want to make lots of money in this business and they are working like mad to do that and they are willing to work inside a legal system and to protect the investment they have made from the potential of a law enforcement action.”

On his relationship with police:

“Their first reaction was these people are criminals and they need to be treated as criminals. And it took me a while to finally figure it out. OK, I get it. Yesterday they were criminals, but today they have been willing to come out from behind the curtain and be licensed and regulated by the state of Oregon. Let’s not look backwards. Let’s look forward. If they play by the rules and honor the agreement we have, which is that you come inside the box and be protected and you live by the rules, then the fact that they were breaking the law two weeks ago, I don’t care about.”

On the Oregon Liquor Control Commission’s plans for a statewide ‘listening tour’ beginning in January to hear from residents about the rules for the marijuana industry:

“I am really looking forward to going out to Pendleton or into Burns and Coos Bay and Ontario where I have had conversations with people over the phone. I am really am looking forward to sitting down in a room and observing the dialogue that occurs when you have a public forum where disparate sides come together. I don’t know what the world is like in Ontario or Harney County. Maybe (regulated marijuana) doesn’t work there; I don’t know. But we need to go and listen and have a conversation with them and understand what their concerns are so that when we make rules, we are not making rules for the I-5 corridor.”

— Noelle Crombie 

Tom Burns named director of marijuana programs in Oregon Tom Burns, 61, a veteran Oregon Health Authority administrator, will advise the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the agency charged with overseeing implementation of the state’s new marijuana law.


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