Since the legalization of recreational marijuana in Oregon last year, there’s been an explosion or pot-related events, from big celebrations like Weed the People and the Cultivation Classic to “yoganja” classes and house concerts. But now all these events are up in the air due to a confluence of clarifications from state and city authorities, including the city’s pot officials saying they will begin to crack down on events that sell tickets and then give away marijuana.
Earlier this year, people packed into a large living room in Southeast Portland for a rare opportunity to see the singer-songwriter Justin Townes Earl in an intimate setting. But that wasn’t the only appeal. There were two joints for concert-goers to sample.
“We have Island Sweet Skunk, which is kind of famous in the Northwest, and Plush Berry, I believe was bred here in Portland,” said Richard Vinal, the operations director for HiFi Farms. This was the fourth concert the cannabis cultivation company had staged in the home of co-founder Lee Henderson.
“We’re not selling anything,” said Henderson. “As far as I’m concerned, they’re private events — all the money goes to the entertainment — sponsored by my company but basically put on by my wife and myself. I really do at this point view it as like a barbecue.”
Henderson and HiFi, like many similar event organizers, see the marijuana they provide not as a sale, which is illegal, but as a gift to attendees who want to indulge. State law allows the gifting of up to one ounce. Hifi had big plans for more concerts, even outdoor ones at its new farm site — plans that now seem ready to go up in smoke.
“I work with many clients and organizations that would like to put on events, and everybody has hit the pause button until we understand how those events can be produced or if they can even be produced,” says Amy Margolis, a lawyer focused on marijuana law and the executive director of the Oregon Cannabis Association.
“It’s hard to say it’s a change in policy because the city of Portland’s policy is just really being created,” says Margolis. “So there are two moving pieces. One is: What can producers, processors, dispensaries, how are they allowed to interact with these events? And the city of Portland issue is: Can these events happen at all?”
Let’s start with the first issue, as Margolis sees it as the easier to deal with. On May 20, the Oregon Health Authority issued a bulletin outlining that marijuana growers can only transfer to medical patients and dispensaries, not straight to recreational users. So someone like Lee Henderson and Hifi Farms will seemingly need to sell their product to a dispensary and then buy it back, paying taxes along the way.
More crucial in Margolis’s opinion is the city’s response when she tried to confirm that the various summer events in the works are legal. That whole idea that events charge for entry and then gift the marijuana? Well, the city just said no.
“It’s pretty explicit in the code language that if you’re offering marijuana for consideration, that’s a sale of marijuana,” said Brandon Goldner, the city’s Marijuana Policy Program Assistant. “For example, a concert: if you had a cover charge at door, and you had marijuana as part of that package, under our code language that’s considered a sale.”
Just this week, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission issued a chart to try to clear up this long-lingering confusion about whether an event can “gift” pot if it’s charging a cover fee, stating that “Financial Consideration is not allowed and is considered the same as selling marijuana when money, goods, or services are exchanged directly or indirectly for marijuana.”
I asked Goldner that, if giving away pot at ticketed events has always been illegal, why have these events been allowed to happen in the past?
“We now have the staff in order to enforce the code a little more fully than we were before, I guess that’s the short answer on that,” he said.
The city’s marijuana policy program began last year as a single coordinator, but as marijuana-related fees began to roll in, it has been able to hire more staff and will soon have four enforcement officers. Goldner said the program has yet to issue a citation and remains focused on educating the public and marijuana-related businesses about the law.
“These events are crucial to moving the cannabis industry forward,” said Margolis. She sees the events as no different from farmers markets and food festivals, where the public can sample things like cheeses, wines, and beers to learn what they like. “Right now we’re trying to be collaborative with the city of Portland to talk through how we might meet each other in the middle. And if we can’t come up with a middle ground, we’ll make strategic decisions from there.”
The Marijuana Policy Oversight Team’s Social Consumption Subcommittee has two meetings scheduled in the next month to discuss issues like this, and Goldner said the team has the option to recommend changes to the city code that the city council could take up.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who oversees the Marijuana Policy Program’s bureau, said the city is considering the issue: “We are having some discussions with our policy oversight team, just starting to look at what could it look like and what could we ask the state to legalize.”
Commissioner Fritz doesn’t, however, see any changes being made by summer. As for all the planned events, well, can anyone say buzzkill?