Realities of pot production not looking so green for growers

Sean C. Morgan

A report released by the Oregon-Idaho High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area this month shows that marijuana overproduction in Oregon is fueling illegal transport to black markets out of the state.

Linn County is part of the Oregon-Idaho HIDTA, and local law enforcement agencies receive funding from the program to help pay for the Linn County Interagency Narcotics Enforcement team. The program has 15 members, including 14 counties and the Warm Springs Reservation.

Billy J. Williams, U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon, said the report shows that marijuana production, distribution and consumption is “out of control.”

“The industry’s considerable and negative impacts on land use, water and underage consumption must be addressed immediately,” Williams said in response to the release of the report. “State officials should respond quickly and in a comprehensive manner to address the many concerns raised by this assessment.

“We are alarmed by revelations from industry representatives, landowners and law enforcement partners describing the insufficient and underfunded regulatory and enforcement structure governing both recreational and medical use.”

The weakly regulated industry, he said, will continue to detract from the livability and health of Oregon’s communities.

“Overproduction is rampant, and the illegal transport of product out of state – a violation of both state and federal law – continues unchecked,” Williams said. “My ask continues to be for transparency, responsible regulation, adequate funding and a willingness to work together. It’s time for the state to wake up, slow down and address these issues in a responsible and thoughtful manner.”

“I just thought some of the key statistics were interesting,” said Police Chief Jeff Lynn. The report underscores concerns local police have had about marijuana.

In particular, Lynn has been concerned about a lack of education about the effects of marijuana while advertising is widespread.

To address that, the school resource officer has a number of things “we are attempting to fill some of that gap.”

Locally, police primarily deal with minors using marijuana and occasionally investigates reports of illegal, unlicensed dealing, Lynn said. Sweet Home Police Department recently has trained a new drug recognition expert to help emphasize enforcement against driving under the influence.

After voter approval of the recreational use marijuana in 2014, retailers began selling marijuana in late 2016. Medical use of marijuana has been legal under state law since 1998.

Production

Regarding production, the Oregon-Idaho HIDTA found that Oregon’s production capacity is an estimated 2 million pounds of marijuana annually worth approximately $6.7 billion.

Immediately following state-sanctioned legalization, Oregon had approximately 417,000 active marijuana users, about 10 percent of the population, with varying usage frequency. As of this month, the state had one cannabis grow site for every 25 users.

As a result of cannabinoid extract production, the Oregon Burn Center spent $9.6 million for initial treatment of burn victims from July 2015 to January 2018. In the same period, law enforcement investigated 64 clandestine cannabinoid extraction labs, 21 of which resulted in explosion or fire.

As a result of overproduction, counties heavily engaged in cultivation, such as Jackson, Josephine and Lane, face risk from collapsing cannabis prices.

Production is intensive, requiring 22.7 liters of water daily for a mature plant. A single kilogram of finished marijuana flower requires 5.2 megawatt hours annually. The Rogue River Basin is under acute hydrologic strain as a result of the growth of cultivation.

Distribution

Oregon has 574 retailers and 126 wholesalers licensed by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission with an additional 352 retailers and 223 wholesaler applications awaiting agency review.

One retailer is open and three awaiting agency review in Sweet Home. The highest concentrations of retailers are in Multnomah, Lane, Marion and Jackson counties.

In 2016 and 2017, 54.8 percent of adult Oregonians reported exposure to cannabis advertising in the previous 30 days, while 29 percent reported having seen information about the health risks. As of 2017, 37.2 percent of eighth graders and 49.5 percent of 11th graders reported exposure to advertising in the previous 30 days.

Under federal law and under 2014’s Measure 91, which legalized marijuana under state law, it is illegal to import or export marijuana into or from Oregon.

Between July 2015 and January 2018, law enforcement seized 14,550 pounds of marijuana worth $48 million en route to 37 states, most frequently en route to Minnesota, Florida, Wisconsin, Missouri, Virginia, Illinois, Arkansas, Iowa, Maryland and Texas. The majority of illicitly exported Oregon cannabis was linked to Jackson, Multnomah, Josephine, Lane, Deschutes and Washington counties.

Law enforcement seized nearly $1.7 million in-bound money from July 2017 through March 2018 at the Portland Airport, while $861,000 worth of product was interdicted at the airport during the same period.

Consumption

Among Oregon’s 417,000 cannabis users, about 128,000 use multiple times daily. The majority of users are between 25 and 44 years old, approximately 164,000 individuals out of the state’s population of more than 4.1 million.

Statewide, cannabis users consume an estimated 185,100 to 372,600 pounds per year, a market value of up to $1.3 billion. The state has collected some $173.1 million in the last three fiscal years from marijuana taxes.

A glut in stockpiles stemming from overproduction has caused a 50-percent annual reduction in prices since 2016. As of 2018, just 31 percent of the inventory was distributed, leaving 69 percent unconsumed in the state-sanctioned recreational system.

Following state legalization, in 2016, 11 percent of current adult users reported less frequent use, while 64 percent reported comparable use and 25 percent reported more frequent use.

As of 2017, 6.7 percent of eighth graders and 20.9 percent of 11th graders self-reported cannabis use in the previous 30 days; and by 2017, nearly one in five eighth and 11th graders reported living in a household with an adult who uses cannabis.

Between October 2015 and October 2016, the rate of cannabis-related emergency room visits increased by 85 percent, from 3.4 per 1,000 to 6.3.

Cannabis-related calls to the Oregon Poison Control Center rose from 103 in 2014 to 348 by 2016, with “tachycardia” the most commonly reported clinical effect.

Between 2014 and 2016, the total number of examinations by drug recognition experts determining a person was impaired, validated by a later toxicology analysis, increased by 66.28 percent, reaching a total of 991 by 2016. The majority of them were between the ages of 21 and 31 years old.

In the same period, 20 percent were under the age of 21, the legal age to use marijuana.

The report is available for download at http://oridhidta.org/cannabis-production-distribution-consumption-assessment.

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