Blink your eye and a week goes by. The first two months of every full legislative session are particularly intense. Each of Oregon’s 90 individual legislators and each of Oregon’s 33 separate legislative policy committees has the power to introduce what they hope will eventually become new laws for our state. After the swearing in and training wraps up in mid- January, each of these bills is “first read” by either the Speaker or Senate President and then referred to a Committee for action. Or to die quietly without a peep. Each of these bills has its own story, its own often fervent supporters, and usually a growing list of interested parties with often times equally fervent concerns about its implications. Each bill has at least one legislator who introduced it and/or a lobbyist who submitted the idea and/or a constituent who asked for it. As of the time of this writing, about 3000 bills are in the works. And at the starting gates, each and every one of them is theoretically on the table.
This creates a lot of work for those who are highly interested in what these bills say. It’s a time when legislators and their dedicated staff, lobbyists and our driven clients, and an array of analysists, committee assistants, legislative counsels, interns, agency heads, government affairs reps, and IT professionals (who make the whole show go) can often be understandably, overwhelmed. The expression ‘drinking from a firehose’ is widely overhead in the hallways, from the newest members and staff in the House to the ‘seasoned’ Capitol insiders who’ve long served in the ‘upper chamber’ of the Senate. It’s organized chaos for most, but when everyone is in the Capitol together, it’s a shared experience that I miss.
Of course, the part of it that no one misses is what we call “the Capitol Crud”. It’s a cold, a flu, a virus, and it circulates rapidly through the crowded, shared-air office facilities of the Capitol in January, February and March of every session. Like clockwork. Many staffers and lobbyists and interns and legislators get mildly to moderately sick. Every year. As much as I miss the comradery and sheer effectiveness of communicating person to person in the hallways and elevators with decision makers, the thought of “Capitol Crud”, COVID Edition is terrifying. For legislators who fall into high-risk categories, it would be doubly so.
I certainly understand and fully support the procedural changes Oregon is making to the legislative process in order to try to keep people safe. The Capitol itself remains closed to the public, so Committee processes are happening remotely. The Oregon Constitution requires certain votes to happen in person, on the floors of the Senate and House. So legislative leaders are encouraging Committee Chairs to try to identify non-controversial legislation, wrap those provisions into Omnibus bills, and bring the smallest number of actual bills to the floors as possible. This makes sense from the perspective of trying to limit the amount of time those who are at high risk of the virus have to spend in the Capitol, on the chamber floors.
However, passing new laws is never easy. Every bill has a story. Here’s an update on the story of our bills:
Months ago, leaders from within multiple elements of Oregon’s Cannabis industry agreed to prioritize the Cannabis Equity Bill, which has now officially been introduced. HB 3112 is the product of months of negotiations, stakeholder input, work group engagement, and strategic planning led by OCA partners and friends. It is Chief Sponsored by: Rep. Ricki Ruiz (DGresham); Rep. Julie Fahey (D-W. Eugene and Junction City); Rep. Janelle Bynum (D-Clackamas); Rep. Mark Meek (D-Clackamas County); Sen. Lew Frederick (D-Portland); and Sen. Kayse Jama (D-Portland). Additionally, HB 3112 is Co-Sponsored by: Rep. Maxine Dexter (D-Portland); Rep. Pam Marsh (D-Southern Jackson County); and Rep. Karin Power (D-Milwaukie). Please stay tuned, as the bill will soon be referred to a committee. The time for reaching out to the legislators who serve on that committee is coming soon!
Meanwhile, OCA is co-leading efforts to craft a Joint Cannabis Industry Omnibus Bill with the goal of taking as many steps as possible toward modernizing the Oregon laws that so dramatically impact your businesses. SB 408, Chief Sponsored by Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-South Lane and North Douglas Counties) will be a ‘legislative vehicle’ used for this purpose. We’ve worked closely with our industry partners and leaders at ORCA and F.A.R.M.S Inc. and others to submit a large set of amendments to SB 408 and maintain a unified front for common sense cannabis reform. The amended version of SB 408 will seek to address enforcement reform at OLCC, allow for greater transfer of product between licensees, increase purchase and possession limits as well as increase allowances for concentration limits, reduce the use of plastic in our industry, and support plant diversity by allowing qualified producers to receive seeds from any source within Oregon. The amendment to add each of these provisions to SB 408 is now being written by Legislative Counsel. The bill is in the Senate Business and Labor Committee, Chaired by Sen. Chuck Riley (D-Hillsboro). Along with our industry partners, we recently met with Sen. Riley as well as the leadership at OLCC. Finding common ground with agency leaders and elected officials will be essential toward making progress on each of these issues this session. When amendment language is released, we expect more legislative activity including a public hearing and further negotiations to continue. We’ll be calling on you again and again to share your input and your stories throughout this process. Other bills of interest include HB 2263 and HB 2416, which have each had encouraging public hearings in the House General Government Committee, Chaired by Rep. Marty Wilde (D Eugene). We understand amendments are forthcoming to HB 2263 that will allow for batch testing and lessening of the burden created by the madness of the individual plant tag requirements. HB 2416, advancing the idea of voluntary certification of environmentally sound cannabis business practices, was also well received in a hearing in Committee. We will be following these and all other cannabis related bills closely in the weeks and months ahead!
I am so proud of the leadership from Kim Lundin, Meghan Walstatter, and Molly Conroy of OCA. This team has already worked tirelessly to review hundreds of bills, build coalitions, negotiate bill provisions, meet with legislators and policy makers, and generally grow the influence of the Oregon Cannabis Association. It’s a great group and we’re going about things the right way for the long term. Thank you so much for the opportunity to be a part of your team! Please reach me anytime with any comments, concerns, questions, and direction.
Jonathan Manton, Advocate Oregon Cannabis Association