You would think a Californian wouldn’t have to go far to find affordable marijuana. The drug isn’t legal for recreation yet, but it’s allowed for medical use and is so widely accepted it’s common to see people walking the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles toking away.
Even so, a fair number of people who live in Northern California are making the drive to buy their weed in Oregon, where it is now legal for any use. The state’s first retail marijuana went on sale Oct. 1 in converted MMJ dispensaries across the state.
It was a busy day, shopkeepers said, and many of the customers had clearly just driven over the state line from California. Presumably they’re driving home with the drug, which is a federal crime. But legal weed is legal weed, especially in Oregon, which has the cheapest average prices in the country.
“It’s crazy,” said Michael Welch, founder of Siskiyou Medical Supply, a dispensary located 15 miles over the border in Ashland, Ore.
Welch’s eight employees – he runs a small shop – were serving lines 20 customers long on opening day, with weed selling for as little as $8 a gram.
“So far this morning, almost half of them are from different areas,” he said, referring to out-of-staters. He said he was “kind of surprised” to see so many from California.
October made Oregon the third state where cannabis is now legal for personal use and on sale in retail stores. Marijuana is also legal in Washington, D.C., and Alaska, but stores have not yet opened in those places.
Pot is highly accessible in California
It’s a strange phenomenon that Californians would get their pot next door. The drug is barred for recreation in the Golden State, but it has been legal for medical use since 1996. What’s more, the rules of the MMJ program are so loose almost anyone over the age of 21 can get their hands on medicinal pot.
Two attempts to legalize the drug completely have failed, including one that made it to the ballot in 2010. The other, in 2014, failed to gather enough signatures to make the ballot.
Advocates are already moving to get the issue before voters again next year. There are several petitions in the works that would place legalization on the 2016 ballot. Support for the idea is strong, though there is some concern that competing referendums could lead voters to reject reform again.
Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize, in 2012; weed went on sale in both places last year. Alaska and Oregon legalized in 2014, as did the District of Columbia.
Highest possession limit in the nation
The law in Oregon allows adults to possess up to 8 ounces of processed cannabis – the largest legal possession limit in the country. Adults may possess up to 1 ounce in public, and may grow up to four plants at home. But store sales are currently limited to one quarter ounce per person per day.
There are more than 200 MMJ dispensaries in the state that applied for recreational licenses, nearly half of them in the Portland area. A 25 percent sales tax won’t take effect until January, so weed is very cheap right now – though each store is allowed to set its own prices.
It’s unclear whether Californians drove to Oregon for the temporary novelty of legal marijuana or plan to do it on a regular basis. That would seem like something of a waste, since Oregon borders the part of California that grows the most cannabis; in the Emerald Triangle, it’s almost harder not to find pot.
But some California residents may find it impossible to get a doctor’s recommendation for MMJ, no matter how loose the rules. And they may feel uncomfortable buying off the black market. Why they would nonetheless feel comfortable driving weed across state lines is anyone’s guess.
“To drive across the border to get seven grams . . . is a long drive and a lot of gas for a little bit of marijuana,” said Michael Lisk, whose House of Leaves in Ashland drew Californians throughout the day. He said he doesn’t expect the trickle to continue for long.