While Illinois legislators wrestled with the issue of legalizing marijuana, their counterparts in Oregon were addressing an unanticipated problem from their decision to legalize it.
Oregon is suffering from a glut of the stuff, to the point that elected officials there are trying to rescue legal sellers from the falling prices caused by the sellers' decision to grow too much.
"The harsh reality is we have too much product on the market," said Democratic Gov. Kate Brown.
The governor is preparing to sign legislation that would allow the Oregon Liquor Control Commission additional authority to deny — based on the economic concept of supply and demand — new pot-growing licenses.
Government officials can't resist fiddling with the marketplace, especially when private interests, in this case those who have pot they can't sell, ask for help.
News accounts indicate that Oregon has so much cannabis that it "if growing were to stop today, it could take more than six years by one estimate to smoke or eat it all."
The market solution to the glut would be to do nothing, let prices fall and uncompetitive sellers deal with the consequences. Eventually, supply would meet what is now insufficient demand.
But the dealers have raised the prospect that they — at least some of them — will divert unsold legal marijuana into the black market. In other words, bail us out or run the risk we'll engage in criminal behavior.
Why is Oregon up to its neck in dope?
Previously decriminalized, marijuana was legalized there in 2014. So growers have been planting the stuff in a climate that is rich and moist. They expected to generate substantial profits based on what they perceived to be unlimited demand.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the pay window. Prices fell through the floor.
Retail prices dropped from more than $10 per gram in 2016 to less than $5 last December while production continued to boom and more competitors sprang up.
More than 1,000 producers have received "grow" licenses over the past three years.
So while denying new licenses is a proposed solution, it's pretty obvious that there already are too many existing growers. Plus, there's another complicating factor, and it's a big one.
While those marijuana growers can close shop, they can't escape their debts by filing for bankruptcy because growing and selling marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
One grower complained that "when we go out of business, we're going to go down hard."
Irony abounds in this debate. Current pot growers want to block entry into the market by new pot growers via legislation while would-be pot growers contend that those denied licenses to grow will do so anyway — in violation of the law.
Imagine that, growing marijuana illegally in a state awash in legal marijuana. All-knowing legislators and regulators, no doubt, will straighten that out.
The apparent problem with growing marijuana is that, if it's not sold, it spoils. So producers are trying to save their stock by converting it to the edibles and oils some consumers enjoy. While that may prevent spoilage, it still represents unsold inventory.
What Oregon producers really want is not help from the state government, but from the federal government. If Congress would just legalize marijuana in all 50 states, they assert, Oregon could ship its marijuana elsewhere.
That's not likely to happen anytime soon. In the meantime, it's hard times — not high times — for pot growers in Oregon. As for the users, getting stoned is a bargain, at least in terms of dollars and cents.
-- The (Champaign) News-Gazette