PORTLAND, Ore. — In June, state marijuana regulators with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) stopped accepting new recreational marijuana licenses so that they could catch up on a growing backlog.
"Even before then the number of applications we had to get through was significant. The surge of applications we received right before the pause took effect on June 15 just multiplied the numbers," said OLCC Executive Director Steven Marks in a statement on Thursday.
Now, according to the OLCC which oversees the licensing process, regulators are still so inundated with new applications and renewals for existing businesses that could take another year or more just to finish processing the ones that accumulated before the cut-off.
"In the second half of 2017, when we began renewing the licenses of existing licensees, we determined that the time it takes to complete a renewal is equivalent to about 80 percent of the time it takes to process a new license application," said Marks.
The OLCC has charged 11 of their investigators with handling 2017 and 2018 license renewals and updates—processing paperwork for just those marijuana businesses that are already up and running. Getting through that backlog alone will take about a year, according to Marks.
But getting to the pile of 2,210 new applications received by June 15 will take at least 12-14 months, and could take longer for those applications that were submitted just inside the deadline. Just two OLCC investigators are assigned to the new applications.
"We will prioritize processing retailer, wholesaler, and processor applications ahead of producer applications. Our logic is straightforward. These application types take less time to process than producer applications which are more complex, and there are fewer of them to get through," said Marks.
Marks claims that the slow going has everything to do with the "immature" state of the industry—with continuous, gradual changes coming from lawmakers, individual marijuana businesses constantly rising, falling, or consolidating, and requests for additional regulatory staffing going slowly through the state bureaucratic machinery.
— OLCC (@OLCC) July 30, 2018
"The processing of applications may appear to be proceeding at a glacial pace but I can tell you our team is operating at capacity," said Marks.
The statement from Marks did not provide any clear idea of when the OLCC will consider accepting new applications again, or if they would re-open applications as soon as they finish with the current backlog.
"Our ability to innovate our way out of this backlog is limited, but we continue to look for ways to improve and streamline our work in the near term, while developing systematic long term plans," said Marks.