With Oregon retailers on a pace to sell $1 billion work of recreational cannabis in the 2020-21 fiscal year, Gov. Kate Brown is asking lawmakers to change the name of the venerable Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which has worn the same label since its formation in 1933, after Prohibition ended.
Many people just call the agency that enjoys a near monopoly on hard liquor sales at the wholesale level the OLCC, if they refer to it all.
But following voter approval in 2014 of recreational cannabis, the OLCC took on a vast new responsibility, regulating legal weed. (To put the two industries into some perspective, the OLCC expects to sell about $777 million worth of distilled spirits in the next fiscal year. That’s not an apples-to-apples comparison to cannabis, because it doesn’t include the retail mark-up on booze, but it shows that cannabis has quickly become a significant industry for the state to regulate.)
Unlike liquor, where established multi-national and domestic distillers produce versions of the same booze Oregonians have drunk for decades, cannabis is a rapidly emerging and evolving industry. The state plays a much different role with cannabis: It is not a seller. Instead, the Oregon Department of Revenue collects a tax of 17 percent at the retail level, while the OLCC provides regulation. It is involved in helping the industry maximize safety without stifling growth and innovation.
All of that is to say that the Oregon Liquor Control Commission’s old name no longer reflects its mission.
The Legislature convenes for the 2021 session on Friday, Jan. 22.