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Oregon Limits Medical Cannabis Sales to Prevent Diversion to Black Market

Regulators are cutting the daily cap on medical marijuana buys from 24 ounces to just one to help crack down on the state’s thriving illegal sales.

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A medical cannabis dispensary in Springfield, Oregon.

Oregon cannabis regulators just slammed the brakes on the amount of weed that medical marijuana patients are allowed to buy in a given day, over concerns that the program was being abused to divert legal pot to the black market. Last Thursday, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), which also regulates cannabis sales in the state, announced a new emergency rule limiting medical cannabis users to purchasing only one ounce of weed per day.

Licensed medical cannabis patients were previously allowed to purchase as much as 24 ounces of cannabis per day, theoretically allowing a certified individual to buy well over five hundred pounds of weed per year. State regulators rarely saw anyone even getting close to these limits, with 95% of all pot sales to medical card-holders recorded at 2 ounces or less. Last week, however, several patrons began hitting up local dispensaries and buying 24 ounces of weed every day, collecting more than six pounds of weed each in a week.

“Today’s action on [medical marijuana] purchase limits is designed to prevent potential diversion of usable marijuana into the secondary illegal market,” OLCC officials said in a statement. “The OLCC will continue to investigate the suspicious activity and will work with the Oregon Health Authority, which has authority over the OMMP, and if necessary forward investigative findings to law enforcement.”

Since legalizing recreational cannabis in 2014, Oregon has been battling a thriving black market. A recent federal law enforcement report found that the Beaver State was growing around 2 million pounds of weed annually, but the state’s population only consumes under 375,000 pounds a year on average. The feds have reported that much of this product is being smuggled to states where pot is still illegal, and Oregon U.S. Attorney Billy Williams has repeatedly threatened that the federal government will take action if the state does not take immediate efforts to resolve the issue themselves.

Faced with a looming threat of federal intervention, the OLCC responded quickly to this new threat of black market diversion. “The data analyst noticed it on Tuesday,” OLCC spokesperson Mark Pettinger told the Bend Bulletin. “The attorneys on staff wrote an emergency rule on Wednesday, and it went in front of the OLCC on Thursday. It could be after these investigations move forward and we talk to stakeholders in the medical marijuana community, there is an adjustment. For now we have to tighten it up.”

“The Cannabis Tracking System worked as it should enabling us to uncover this suspicious activity,” Steven Marks, OLCC Executive Director, said in a statement. “When we detect possible illegal activity we need to take immediate steps to deter it from happening further, and that’s why the Commission moved quickly.” The temporary limit will remain in effect for four months, after which time the OLCC could choose to remove, extend, or revise this limit. 

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