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'Dead ' is a relative term in a bill's lifespan

Bill to help regulate supply of marijuana looked dead, but has been approved by the Senate.

VV VV - vvvv vvFor bills in the Oregon Legislature, "dead" is a relative term.

The outlook appeared bleak for Senate Bill 218, a proposal to let state regulators deny marijuana growing permits based on supply and demand, after a coalition of Republicans and Democrats dealt it a surprise failure on the Senate floor on April 10.

It's uncommon, although not unheard of, for a controversial bill to fail on the floor because one or two supporters are absent. It just happened last week in the House with a bill to ban polystyrene takeout containers at restaurants, and it's happened in the Senate this session, too. In those cases, the bill was brought up for reconsideration the next day and passed.

But all 30 senators were present for the 17-13 vote rejecting SB 218, and the bill was sent back to committee instead of being scheduled for reconsideration the next day.

The Senate Rules Committee, however, managed to broker a compromise to make SB 218 more palatable to several senators who voted against it on April 10. With a sunset provision newly added to it — the bill will effectively repeal itself on Jan. 2, 2022 — SB 218 returned to the Senate floor this Monday and passed on an 18-10 vote.

With the built-in expiry, state Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, said the bill will allow regulators to exercise some control over the explosion of marijuana business in Oregon for a couple years "and help markets settle while looking to a future where Oregon can lawfully export products across the country."

Dembrow and other SB 218 supporters point out that because marijuana is still considered an illegal drug under federal law, the legal market for Oregon's marijuana is effectively confined within the state.

Industry experts have been warning for some time about "overproduction" of marijuana in Oregon, in which the supply far outstrips demand and marijuana prices are so low that many growers struggle to turn a profit.

Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, said he worries that if marijuana producers turn to the black market and sell outside of the state, federal prosecutors will turn their attention to Oregon businesses. He opposed the initial bill, but he voted in favor of the amended bill Monday, saying he hopes it will help state officials "police our own house" instead of allowing the marijuana trade to spiral out of control.

"This is simply a tool in the toolbox," Boquist said.

But making the bill a temporary measure didn't satisfy Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield, one of six Democrats — including Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, who did so for procedural reasons — who voted against SB 218 on April 10.

"This was a bad bill when it failed on the floor the first time," Beyer said. "It hasn't changed."

Beyer argued that voters decided marijuana should be legal in Oregon, and the state shouldn't interfere with marijuana production in a way that it doesn't with other farm products.

The Senate approved SB 218 by a vote of 18-10.

Beyer and two other Democrats, Sens. Betsy Johnson of Scappoose and Rob Wagner of Lake Oswego, voted against the amended bill. Wagner voted "aye" on April 10.