Marijuana is legal for adults and is taxed and regulated similarly to alcohol; state also has a medical marijuana law
Last update: April 17, 2023
Oregon: A Trailblazer in Cannabis Policy Reform
Oregon was the first state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis in 1973, downgrading it to a fine similar to a traffic offense. Voters also made Oregon among the first to approve cannabis for medical use when they approved Ballot Measure 67 in 1998.
In November 2014, Oregon became the fourth state to legalize adult-use cannabis — including possession, home cultivation, and retail sales.
There have been some bumps in the road, as the state struggled with issues related to overproduction — which is unsurprising given that Oregon has long been an export state for cannabis. While the state has improved its cannabis policies, more work remains to be done — including that the state lacks employment protections.
Oregon Governor Pardons Nearly 50,000 for Cannabis Possession
In November 2022, then-Gov. Kate Brown (D) issued pardons for 47,144 convictions for simple possession of cannabis and forgave more than $14 million in unresolved fees and fines.
Brown released a press statement saying, “Oregonians should never face housing insecurity, employment barriers, and educational obstacles as a result of doing something that is now completely legal, and has been for years.”
This mass pardon excuses state-level convictions for possession of one ounce or less of cannabis prior to legalization. In order to be eligible, possession must be the only charge, the case cannot include victims, and the individual charged must have been 21 years or older at the time of the arrest.
The Oregon Judicial Department will ensure that all court records associated with these pardoned offenses are sealed, as required by law. As it notes, “for some convictions–especially those from before 2005–there may have been insufficient information for the State to determine whether the conviction met the Governor’s criteria specified in the Governor’s marijuana pardon order and described above. As a result, those convictions with insufficient data were not included in the Governor’s pardon." For convictions that weren’t pardoned, individuals can petition for expungement or a case-by-case pardon.
This decision comes after President Biden’s mass pardons, involving about 6,500 individuals with federal convictions from minor cannabis possession. Pres. Biden praised Gov. Brown's pardons on Twitter just a few hours after the announcement:
“Oregon is the latest state to pardon all prior offenses of simple marijuana possession, following my pardon of federal offenses and calls to Governors to do the same in their states. It's time to right our failed approach to marijuana. I urge states to follow Oregon's example.”
Gov. Brown’s pardon came in her final weeks in office.
Oregon Bill Would Provide Limited Employment Protections for Cannabis
While Oregonians legalized adults’ use of cannabis, many employers still use drug testing that excludes cannabis consumers. This puts Oregon behind some other states that have enacted laws protecting cannabis consumers’ jobs post- legalization.
Nevada legalized cannabis for adult use after Oregon, but the state surpassed Oregon in passing employment protections. Effective since the beginning of 2020, Nevada became the first state to prohibit ‘‘the denial of employment because of the presence of marijuana in a screening test taken by a prospective employee …’’ Since then, other legalization states — including California, New York, and New Jersey – have passed laws protecting both job applicants and current employees’ employment rights.
Oregon employers are currently not required to accommodate employees’ use of medical or adult-use cannabis and have power to deny employment or take action against an individual that tests positive for cannabis use.
House Bill 3428 would provide limited protections, prohibiting public healthcare employers from denying employment or taking adverse employment action against a worker due to testing positive for cannabis. The protections would not apply if the employee is reasonably suspected to be impaired at work. HB 3428 would also require the state to conduct studies related to cannabis usage and the detection of impairment.
Oregon Legalizes Interstate Cannabis Commerce
Once federal cannabis laws change, Oregon would be able to export and import cannabis to and from other states under a bill signed by then-Gov Kate Brown in early summer of 2019.
The export and import bill grants the governor authority to make agreements with other states where cannabis is legal to provide for lawful interstate commerce of cannabis products. The governor can only exercise that authority, however, if the federal government makes it legal or if the Justice Department implements an administrative policy allowing for such commerce.
Currently, no such federal policy exists.
Once federal law changes,Oregon is expected to be able to offset one of the main issues in Oregon’s cannabis market: oversupply. The policy would give the state’s cannabis businesses the capacity to export some of their excess supply that has driven down prices and redirect it to other markets in surrounding states.
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Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed four pieces of cannabis-related legislation this year, including two on Monday. One of the bills signed this week, HB 4094, will ensure that financial institutions that serve both medical and nonmedical cannabis businesses will not be subject to state criminal laws. The other, SB 1524, makes it easier for veterans who receive services from the VA health system to renew medical marijuana registrations.
Her signatures follow last week’s signature on SB 1511, the second…