Spotting a potential source of leaks to the black market, Oregon marijuana regulators decided this week to drastically lower the daily purchase limit for consumers in the medical program.

Medical cardholders may buy 1 ounce of marijuana flower per day, instead of 24 ounces, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission announced late Thursday.

The rule was prompted by a pattern of suspicious activity and will be in effect through Dec. 27, OLCC spokesman Mark Pettinger said.

“The data analyst noticed it on Tuesday. The attorneys on staff wrote an emergency rule on Wednesday, and it went in front of the OLCC on Thursday,” Pettinger said. “It could be after these investigations move forward and we talk to stakeholders in the medical marijuana community, there is an adjustment. For now we have to tighten it up.”

The medical marijuana program accounts for 12 percent to 15 percent of sales at pot retailers across the state, Pettinger said. The vast majority of cardholders, 95 percent, buy less than 2 ounces a week, he said.

“Bend is such a hub. There’s a lot of people we have from Christmas Valley, Crescent, Prineville,” said Kevin McMahon, a budtender at Substance marijuana retail shop who is also a medical cardholder. “Whenever they’re picking it up, it’s for months at a time.”

Another reason medical cardholders buy several ounces of pot at a time is to make their own extractions, McMahon said.

The medical program offers several benefits to its users. Purchases are tax-free, a 20 percent savings. Medical marijuana users also are allowed to buy edible products that are twice as potent as the limit for regular consumers.

“Our medical customers are the foundation of this whole system,” Substance owner Jeremy Kwit said. Although he and most other medical marijuana dispensary owners converted to recreational retail shops in 2016, Kwit said he’s committed to serving the medical marijuana community and offers a steep discount off the base price — 20 percent. “So our cardholders end up paying about 40 percent less for their medicine,” he said.

The cheapest ounce of flower a recreational consumer could buy at Substance on Friday was $100 after taxes, Kwit said. (One ounce is the daily purchase limit for regular consumers.) A medical cardholder would pay about $67 for the same product, he said.

All marijuana transactions are tracked by the OLCC, which oversees the retailers. The cardholders themselves are monitored by the Oregon Health Authority.

An OLCC data analyst this week found that a “substantial” number of medical cardholders were buying up to 24 ounces at a time, and a “significant” number of that group were making successive purchases within a week, Pettinger said. “For someone to go through that amount or to gift it within a day’s time isn’t practical,” he said.

The OLCC will continue investigating along with the health authority, Pettinger said. “A probable path is us making a permanent rule change based on what we’ve discovered.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7860, kmclaughlin@bendbulletin.com

21077399