Green Rush: Cashing in on legal marijuana


Marijuana is big business in Oregon, and it’s about to get bigger.

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Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 2.13.12 PMMarijuana is big business in Oregon, and it’s about to get bigger. According to a recent estimate by ArcView Market Research, the research arm of a marijuana investment firm, consumers spent $569 million on the state’s pot last year. Yet despite a proliferation of medical-marijuana storefronts in many communities, selling the drug remains illegal — even to patients.

0315 spotlight pot01 500pxThat will change on July 1, when anyone over age 21 can legally own, smoke and grow pot, with some limits. And late next year, stores will start selling nugs, shake, buds, joints, hash oil, edibles — whatever the discerning cannabis consumer desires — creating a legitimate multimillion dollar market practically overnight. Little wonder investors and entrepreneurs are eager to cash in.

“I don’t want to encourage too many other people to jump into this space to compete with me,” jokes Matt Haskin, president of Riverside County, California-based CannaSafe Analytics, which is looking to open a lab in Oregon. “But it’s profitable. Very profitable.”

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 2.19.15 PMThat’s worrying to some entrepreneurs and activists who want to keep Oregon’s pot profits local. “I’m concerned about people coming in from out of state with lots of money, setting up huge commercial grow areas,” a grower who gave only his first name — Dave — told the Oregon Liquor Control Commission on February 2 in Salem, during one of a dozen marijuana listening sessions the agency held this February and March. “Keep the money in the state of Oregon,” he said, drawing applause from a crowd of more than 200 people who had gathered to share their views.

During Willamette Valley listening sessions, pot growers have asked the OLCC to protect their local roots and keep in mind their limited financial resources, rather than draft rules that might favor out-of-state investors. But when the OLCC visited Pendleton and Baker City, residents were more concerned about protecting children from the spread of pot, according to reports in local media.

The state house and senate have set up the aptly named Joint Committee on Implementing Measure 91 to listen to these and other concerns, and to consider tweaks to the voter-approved initiative.

 Among the changes requested: OLCC wants more power to enforce the rules it’s writing; former Gov. John Kitzhaber proposed lowering the number of pot plants people can keep at home, and combining oversight of medical and recreational marijuana. And some communities want changes to let them opt out of legalization, or to levy additional pot taxes.

Legalization activists are working to preserve the law as it was approved. “Instead of making major changes, the state first needs to get the basics of implementation right — like childproofing, labeling, testing, packaging, auditing, inspecting, taxing, licensing and background checks,” Anthony Johnson, chief petitioner for Measure 91, said in an email.

Even if Measure 91 is modified, legal pot is coming to Oregon, says Rob Patridge, Klamath County District Attorney and chairman of the OLCC. “We’re not here to relitigate whether Measure 91 was a good thing or a bad thing,” he says. “I voted against the measure, but I’m here to do the will of the voters.”