As of Tomorrow, Oregonians Can Legally Smoke Pot

Obtaining it is another story.


Jacob Sullum

Tomorrow Measure 91, the marijuana legalization initiative that Oregon voters approved last November, begins to take effect. As of midnight, public possession of up to an ounce by adults 21 or older will no longer be subject to state penalties. Oregonians also will be allowed to grow up to four plants at home, where the quantity limit for marijuana will be eight ounces, and share up to an ounce at a time. Consumption in any "place to which the general public has access" will still be prohibited.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission plans to begin accepting applications from would-be producers and retailers in January, and the first state-licensed stores are expected to open in the fall of 2016. Until then the only legal source of marijuana for recreational consumers will be home cultivation. Since Oregonians are not supposed to start growing until tomorrow, that means the marijuana they are allowed to possess will come from illegal sources for at least a few months. The in-state options include medical and black-market marijuana. Alternatively, Oregonians can buy marijuana from state-licensed stores in Washington, their neighbor to the north. But if they bring it home, they will be violating state and federal laws against interstate transportation of cannabis.

"This disconnect between adults being able to use the plant recreationally but not being able to legally buy it has left many shaking their heads," reports the Salem Statesman Journal, calling the situation  a "cannabis contradiction" and "the second immaculate conception." There was a similar (but shorter) lag between the legalization of marijuana use and the legalization of commercial distribution in Colorado, where possession and home cultivation became legal in December 2012 but licensed recreational sales did not start until the beginning of 2014. Recreational cannabis consumers in Washington had to wait half a year longer for legal sales, and they had no right to grow their own in the meantime. 

Public possession and home cultivation became legal for Alaskans on February 24. As in Oregon, commercial distribution in Alaska is expected to begin toward the end of next year. In Washington, D.C., where possession, home cultivation, and sharing became legal on February 26, Congress so far has blocked the licensing and regulation of marijuana businesses.