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Oregon’s Medical Patients Approach Recreational Sales with Optimism, But Some Trepidation

When anticipating Oregon's October 1 cannabis legalization debut, Portland-area resident Matt Gonzalez fills with cautious optimism. He believes cannabis access for everyone over 21 in Oregon will be a good thing, but finds himself wondering what will happen to those who already have it.

“[It] might make it hard for some cardholders to get their medicine,” he says. “I have a feeling [dispensaries] won’t have enough.”

Gonzalez, 31, has been a medical marijuana cardholder since 2005, four years after he was involved in a serious car crash that snapped his femur in half and left him on life support for over a month. Now, with metal plates, bars, and bolts in his body, he uses cannabis to alleviate the pain that come with his arthritis.

With the card, he’s able to access cannabis easily and frequently. As a result, legalization is merely a pleasantry to him—a way for his medicine to become even more accessible. Of course, that’s if the dispensary around the corner hasn’t run out due to increased traffic.

“We’ll see,” Gonzalez says with a hint of skepticism.

This seems to be a growing sentiment among Portland cardholders: That legalization, though undoubtedly a good thing in the long run, could bring some frustrating hurdles to the process for medical patients, including longer wait times. These waits could stem from less inventory in dispensaries or potentially lengthier lines. It’s an issue not often discussed when it comes to the impending October 1 date; the cardholder’s perspective is seemingly often overlooked because of their existing access to the drug. Like so many other Portlanders, though, they’ll most likely feel effects from the change—and some could be negative.

For Charlotte Roehm, a 26-year-old resident of Portland who works at a cannabis greenhouse, legalization is a positive move that could bring a few headaches along with it. She believes legalization will help Portland become “a center for horticultural and medical cannabis research,” but also could make dispensaries more crowded.

“Recreational sales may mean a longer sit in the dispensary waiting room,” she says. “[I’ll] hopefully be able to avoid some of those lines.”

Like Gonzalez, Roehm isn’t actually sure if those lines will come to fruition, even with the knowledge she’s accumulated through her job at the greenhouse. This uncertainty is seemingly shared by most in the cannabis industry, even the dispensaries themselves. Dez Hair, manager of Rip City Remedies Dispensary on Southeast Division, admits that she simply doesn’t know how much demand will increase as a result of legalization. To prepare for it, Rip City is setting a certain amount of product aside each month for cardholders so they’ll continue to have access to their medicine. What’s more, Rip City is creating an express line that will allow cardholders to move to the front of the line ahead of recreational consumers.

These preventative measures, she believes, will help keep access relatively normal for their patients. She’s also confident that any potential problems will begin to dissipate as time passes.

“I don’t think it’ll be an issue six months down the road after it kind of stabilizes and the market is not brand new,” she says.

In theory, Hair should be able to look to Washington or Colorado for an idea of how things will play out. But legalization—like it will with most states as it begins to sweep the country—unfolded differently in those places than it has in Oregon. Washington specifically set up a much different system, as it kept medical and recreational distribution separate. Instead of allowing its existing medical dispensaries to sell recreationally, Washington has set up a difficult “seed-to-sale” system, which initially resulted in sluggish recreational sales.

Austin Connell, a 25-year-old who currently lives in Portland but worked at a dispensary in Olympia, Wash., when Washington Initiative 502 passed, believes that the separation of medical and recreational was done in part to make sure the change would not hurt cardholders. (Other common explanations surround a lack of an existing medical marijuana system and fumbling by local politicians.) Connell remembers turning away many non-cardholders who believed they could purchase from the dispensary he worked at. Even if they were able to, he’s unsure if they would have had enough product to sell to them.

“The issue of supply versus demand is a real one,” he says.


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