Oregon stops new pot license applications to handle backlog

Pamplin Media Group TheOregon Liquor Control Commission says with thousands of marijuana licenses and worker permits to renew and a steady stream of new applications that it is falling behind.

SALEM — Oregon will temporarily stop accepting new applications for marijuana licensees to resolve a backlog of outstanding applications and renewals.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission said Wednesday that it will prioritize applications received by June 15.

The state will set aside applications received after June 15 until the backlog is cleared.

Since April 2016, the commission has issued nearly 1,900 recreational marijuana licenses and nearly 29,000 worker permits. The number of applications has greatly exceeded expectations.

Under a law passed earlier this year, about 2,000 medical marijuana registrants are now required to register with the state’s cannabis tracking system by July 1. The OLCC will be responsible for auditing and inspecting medical marijuana registrants using that tracking system.

People continue to steadily apply to get licensed to produce, sell or process recreational marijuana, and it now takes longer to get approved, the OLCC says.

“In order to ensure that the OLCC is fulfilling its regulatory duties and providing timely responses to businesses in the industry, we must focus on the current participants in the system and preserve for the Oregon Legislature its consideration of the necessity for further statutory controls on marijuana licensing in 2019,” OLCC Director Steve Marks said in a prepared statement.

Some believe there’s more than the backlog at play.

“That’s code for, ‘We’re going to put caps on licenses,’” said Donald Morse, chairman of the Oregon Cannabis Business Council.

Morse thinks the freeze means the agency will seek a cap on Oregon recreational marijuana licenses in the 2019 legislative session.

A spokesman for the agency, Mark Pettinger, said that was up to the Legislature to decide.

“Well, that’s not our decision,” Pettinger said. “And all we can do is provide the Legislature with facts and information.”

The pause comes amid buzz that the state has produced far more cannabis than its residents can consume. U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams maintains that much of the excess likely gets trafficked across state lines.

But Pettinger says neither a recent audit of the state’s Cannabis Tracking System — which found vulnerabilities in the system that could allow illicit marijuana to fly under the radar — nor Williams’ recent statements.

“We’re just acknowledging that with the resources that we have, we need to focus on those who are already in the system and those who have already submitted an application into the system for us to be able to maintain the integrity of the system,” Pettinger said.

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