Oregon ranks low on cannabis industry transparency

Graphic by | Joan McGuire

Lack of public information on marijuana businesses raises concerns.

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Ed Keating is co-founder of Cannabiz Media, a database that keeps track of more than 16,000 licensed marijuana businesses nationwide.  

As the chief data officer, it is Keating’s job to oversee data research on cannabis markets across the U.S.

Oregon, he says, is one of the most frustrating states to collect data on marijuana businesses.

That is because the state’s marijuana regulator, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), makes very little data public on licensees.  

This is in contrast to several other states where the licensing agency makes far more information public.

Washington, for example, provides comprehensive data on individual marijuana businesses, including their monthly sales figures and how much excise tax they paid.

Massachusetts, which permits medical marijuana use, goes as far as publishing every bit of correspondence between the regulator and the business.

Alaska, which has a legal recreational use marijuana market, publishes detailed information about the licensee applicant, including their address, email address and phone number.        

The only information the OLCC provides on its website about marijuana licensees is the business name, the license type and the county where the company is located.

The Oregon Business team discovered how difficult it is to find data on marijuana businesses when we created a list of cannabis growers, ranked by square feet of land used for cultivation, in our June issue.

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The lack of public data meant we had to contact each grower on the OLCC list of licensees to request information. We received more responses than expected — enough to create a list — but it is by no means comprehensive.

OLCC spokesman Mark Pettinger said the agency does not provide certain information about licensees, such as physical address, because of security concerns.

“The reason for exempting the addresses of producers, processors and wholesalers is that revealing those addresses could pose a public safety issue,” said Pettinger.

Making extensive data available to the public on the cannabis industry is good business practice, argue some.  

Cannabiz Media has, for obvious reasons, a vested interest in promoting disclosure of information on marijuana businesses. But Keating points to several benefits that transparency has for the sector overall. 

For one, it indicates these businesses are part of the tax paying economy, says Keating. “It shows their contribution to the local economy,” he says.

It also helps to destigmatize the industry. The less secrecy there is, the more the public gains trust of the sector.

Businesses can benefit because it makes them visible and thus open to networking opportunities.

Perhaps of most interest to state government is evidence that business transparency can help prevent fraud.

The media has played a part in exposing regulatory lapses that could have prevented crime, in part by using public data.

The Denver Post reported in March that several people indicted on charges of running an illicit marijuana trafficking operation in Colorado had active licenses for operating a marijuana business, according to public records.    

As Oregon’s cannabis industry matures, pressure may mount on the OLCC to provide more information about its licensees. But, for now, the agency is restricted to following what the “legislature put in place,” says Pettinger.