Oregon governor OKs early sales of recreational-use marijuana

Oregon Governor Kate Brown speaks at the state capital building in Salem, Oregon, February 20, 2015. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola

By Shelby Sebens

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) - Oregon residents will be able to buy marijuana for recreational use starting in October, about a year earlier than originally expected, under a new law backers hope will help curb the black market, state officials said on Wednesday.

The law, signed Monday by Democratic Governor Kate Brown, will effectively let adults visit existing medical-use marijuana dispensaries in the state to buy certain strains just to get stoned.

Possessing and growing pot became legal in July after voter approval in a November referendum, and the state expects to start accepting applications in January for recreational pot retail stores likely to open by the fall.

"The bill ... passed with significant bipartisan support in both chambers after a great deal of work by an implementation working group," said Brown's spokeswoman Kristen Grainger.

In November, Oregon and Alaska sanctioned the use of marijuana for recreational purposes in state-regulated schemes that will usher in retail pot shops similar to those already operating in Washington state and Colorado.

The votes reflect the shifting landscape for a substance that remains illegal under federal law.

The new Oregon law lets adults 21 and up buy marijuana for recreational use at medical dispensaries that choose to sell it starting on Oct. 1, said state representative Ann Lininger, a Democrat and sponsor of the bill.

Lininger said early sales will help begin to curb the black market for weed.

State Senator Floyd Prozanski, a Democrat and another bill sponsor, said the state will keep the medical and recreational marijuana markets separate once the recreational shops are up and running.

The law contains a provision that ends the sale of weed to recreational users at medical dispensaries on Dec. 31, 2016.

The purchases will be tax-free until January 2016.

Dominic Corva, executive director of the Seattle-based Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy, said Oregon's short-term fix is more radical than the regulated approach taken by Colorado.

"It starts legal sales without a seed-to-sale tracking system. It gets people used to the idea that they can go and buy cannabis," Corva said.

(Reporting by Shelby Sebens in Portland, Oregon; Editing by Eric M. Johnson and Eric Walsh)