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The Not-So Wild West 

The slow burn of legal weed in Bend

When the clock struck midnight on July 1, a large pro-pot contingent gathered on Portland's Burnside Bridge under a cloud of smoke, celebrating the historic occasion with free cannabis, freely smoked.

But in Bend, the celebration was more subdued.

On July 1, Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel let it be known that the legalization of recreational marijuana is not a free for all. There are still laws pertaining to the cultivation, sale, and use of cannabis, and people will still be expected to follow them.

To illustrate that point, Hummel noted in a news release that a grand jury had recently returned an indictment charging a local man with unlawful manufacture and delivery of marijuana—among other charges.

"It ain't the wild west in Deschutes County," Hummel said. "Marijuana laws have been liberalized, not eliminated. When marijuana laws are violated, the Deschutes County District Attorney's office won't hesitate to hold offenders accountable."

But so far, it appears Bendites are abiding by the new laws—or at least being discrete in their disregard. According to Bend Police Chief Jim Porter, between July 1 and 9, officers did not issue a single citation for unlawful use or possession of marijuana.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, police boosted patrols to address "general livability issues," but Porter says they did no targeted enforcement of marijuana laws. And while he gathers that some folks have violated those laws—namely, by smoking in public—nothing rose to a level of concern that demanded action.

"To date, the citizens of Bend appear to be obeying the new laws as they relate to marijuana use and possession," Porter says. "During the Freedom Ride event, there were obvious indications individuals were smoking marijuana, but no individuals were directly observed by officers violating the new law, or flaunting the use of marijuana."

On the whole, he says he's optimistic that recreational marijuana users will comply with the law and respect those who choose not to inhale.

"Our experience is the vast majority of the people living in Bend are responsible citizens, who intend on complying with the law, and accept the premise with rights comes responsibilities," Porter explains. "There will always be fringe elements within every society who will, with intent, test the boundaries of the law and societal rules. It is with this group the Bend Police has the overwhelming majority of our interaction."

But it's not just individuals who are toeing the line post legalization. Local medical marijuana dispensaries—some of which had planned to host events that included free joints or other cannabis giveaways—got their own reminder of the long arm of the law July 1.

After hearing anecdotal reports of such events, the Oregon Health Authority issued a memo June 30 advising dispensaries that they are not permitted to distribute product, free or otherwise, to individuals without medical Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) cards.

"Really the bottom line is that dispensaries on their property can only supply to medical marijuana card holders," explains Jonathan Modie, a communications officer with the Oregon Public Health Division.

While it's legal for individuals, including OMMP cardholders, to gift cannabis to other adults, dispensaries are held to a different set of rules than individuals.

"Anyway that we can get the word out to both dispensary operators and medical marijuana patients that will help them stay in line with the law, we will do that," Modie says. "We're always looking for opportunities to educate the public." Hunter Neubauer, co-owner of Oregrown, says his dispensary used the excitement around July 1 as an opportunity to educate the public about the law.

"We had a barbecue and set up our tent out front and handed out information regarding the legalization and what you can and cannot do," he explains. "Education was what we were amplifying."

Neubauer says a couple hundred people stopped by over the course of the day, and he directed them to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission's educational website, He is also a member of the OLCC's Rules Advisory Committee.

"We had a ton of people coming over to the shop thinking that they could buy," he says. But after reading the guidance from the Oregon Health Authority and consulting with his attorney, he says it was pretty clear that even giveaways would run afoul of the law. "As of right now, it would behoove them to try to get their medical card and go that route."

But non-medical users may not have to wait too much longer to get their hands on legal weed. The legislature recently approved Senate Bill 460, which would allow dispensaries to distribute a quarter-ounce of marijuana flowers, seeds, and up to four non-flowering plants to the general public starting October 1, until the OLCC is ready to issue recreational licenses. The bill is awaiting a signature from Gov. Kate Brown.

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