Cannabis industry regulators are still overwhelmed, despite pushing the pause button on processing new applications, and those new applications could take nearly 14 months to process.
Currently the Oregon Liquor Control Commission is three months behind in clearing the backlog of license renewals, said Mark Pettinger, OLCC spokesman. If a new cannabis firm was lucky enough to submit a completed application before the June 15 pause went into effect, the process could take up to 14 months.
“There are a number of folks that have renewals but are operating under temporary letter of authority,” Pettinger said. “So they can continue to operate as they have until we can get around to renewing. Our focus is on the renewals.”
Statewide there are 2,030 active licenses for producers, processors and retailers. As of Sept. 24, 651 applications were assigned to an OLCC investigator, and 747 applications were waiting to be assigned, Pettinger said.
In Deschutes County there are 188 license applications — two labs, 37 processors, 91 producers, 39 retailers and 19 wholesalers.
The OLCC maintains that the problem lies in the fact that the regulated recreational cannabis industry is still immature and that the laws and rules enforcing it are catching up.
It acknowledges that the application process may appear to be moving at a glacial pace, but investigators are carrying 60 to 80 applications, Pettinger said.
Frequent ownership changes have complicated the process because they require a thorough review as well, he said. The state did not put any restrictions on the number of permits that could be granted, Pettinger said.
Adam Smith, executive director of Craft Cannabis Alliance, believes that the OLCC is doing the best it can to process applications. With 14 investigators, it will need legislative approval to hire additional workers, Pettinger said. The OLCC gets its funding from the fees it charges, Pettinger said.
Now, the OLCC is putting its focus on renewal applications first, then retail applications and later, when the decks are clearer, they’ll begin working on the producer applications, Pettinger said. That’s because it takes so much labor to process a producer application, which often involves multiple site visits, he said.
“The agency is overwhelmed by the backlog that they have, so they are focusing their limited resources so as not to make the problem worse,” Smith said. “But the decisions that have led us here have already been made, and none of this tinkering will have a dramatic impact. There is demand all over the country for Oregon cannabis.”
Earlier this year the OLCC acknowledged that the recreational cannabis industry was producing more cannabis then it could sell in the state. Some have advocated for passing legislation that would allow sales of Oregon cannabis to other recreational legal states.
The new president of advocacy group Celebrate Cannabis, Lindsey Pate, said the OLCC’s pause does hurt some who didn’t get their applications in early. Pate, the owner of Glass House Grown, said Celebrate Cannabis members acknowledge regulators are strained.
“From a business perspective it’s easy to see that the pause will affect businesses,” Pate said. “It’s a well-intentioned fix to a much bigger problem, and that’s oversupply.”
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