Wildfires are ravaging Oregon, Washington and California. They are truly terrible. Here in Oregon, a full 500,000 residents have been evacuated as I write this blog post on the evening of September 9. Portland smells like burning ash and the suburbs are in evacuation protocols. It’s awful even here.
For the cannabis industry, things look scary too. According to the Oregonian, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) reported that one in every five licensed marijuana businesses (or 408 businesses) are in evacuation protocols from the 35 uncontained wildfires. A total of 73 outdoor producers have been forced off site entirely. As to hemp grows, which are heavily concentrated in some of the afflicted areas, things may be even worse.
The OLCC moved quickly on Wednesday to issue Guidance for OLCC Marijuana Licensees Impacted by Natural Disasters. The Guidance is straightforward. If emergency officials issue a level 1 or level 2 evacuation notice (as has happened in many locales), licensees may transfer endangered product while notifying OLCC. The product must go to another licensee, although it can be any licensee: the prohibition on producers transferring to producers, for example, does not apply. The 24-hour notice requirement for bulk product transfers is also waived temporarily.
The Guidance is very clear that moving product to an unlicensed area, even in evacuation scenarios, is not allowed. Everything must be manifested and tracked in CTS, like always. Licensees are also prohibited from transferring products back to an evacuated premises prior to confirmation that buildings and cameras are fully operational. All in all, it seems the OLCC is trying to help vulnerable businesses while guarding against diversion.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA), which largely oversees hemp, has not issued any advisement to date on wildfire protocol. Hemp does not have similar diversion issues to marijuana, and Oregon hemp crops are still in the ground (at least for another few weeks). For those reasons, it’s likely that we won’t be seeing much from ODA on this issue.
Here at the law firm, our thoughts are with our clients and the industry at large. Many Oregon cannabis businesses are un- or underinsured and others were struggling even before the fires. Looking ahead, it is hard to predict what effects the wildfires will have on the industry at large– especially because we do not know when the fires will be done with Oregon. For now, the best approach is probably to remain alert, listen to local authorities and keep an eye out for further regulatory advisement. And hope for rain.