By Andrew Selsky
Oregon is awash in pot, glutted with so much legal weed that if growing were to stop today, it could take more than six years by one estimate to smoke or eat it all.
Now, the state is planning to curb production.
Five years after voters legalized recreational marijuana, lawmakers have given the Oregon Liquor Control Commission more leeway to deny new pot-growing licenses based on supply and demand.
The bill passed in Oregon's House late Thursday in a 39-18 vote after it was approved earlier in the Senate. It is aimed not just at reducing the huge surplus but also at preventing diversion of unsold legal marijuana into the black market and forestalling a crackdown by federal prosecutors.
"The harsh reality is we have too much product on the market," said Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, who intends to sign the bill.
Supply is running twice as high as demand, meaning that the surplus from last year's harvest alone could amount to roughly 2.3 million pounds of marijuana, by the liquor commission's figures. That's the equivalent of over 1 billion joints.
Oregon has one of the highest such imbalances among the 10 states that have legalized recreational marijuana since 2012, in part because it had a big head start in the weed business.
With its moist climate and rich soil, Oregon has a long history of pot growing. When it became legal, many outlaw growers went legitimate, and others jumped into the business, too.
They are now all cultivating weed in a multitude of fields, greenhouses and converted factories, with 1,123 active producer licenses issued by the OLLC over the past three years.
The legislation could be a lifeline to some cannabis businesses that are being squeezed by market forces.