I have lived in Oregon my entire life, which is a fact that I am extremely proud of. I am a fourth generation Oregonian, and I am always quick to point that out to people. On top of that, I am also a third generation member of Oregon’s cannabis community. My grandfather served prison time for cannabis, and my dad has been convicted of no less than 3 cannabis-only felonies (all of them in Oregon).
I started consuming cannabis in 1993, and became a cannabis activist in 1998 when I volunteered to help Oregon’s successful medical cannabis campaign. Oregon has always been at the forefront of cannabis reform, having been the first state in America to decriminalize cannabis possession in 1973. Oregon also legalized cannabis for adult use in 2014 and has since gone on to implement a taxed and regulated system for adult-use sales.
A lot has changed in Oregon since I started consuming cannabis in the early 1990s, and a rapid change has occurred in the last few years. In the 90s cannabis was easy to find in Oregon, but there were times when droughts would occur. Most of the cannabis that I would see back then was either grown locally or was smuggled from Canada. In the 2000s after Operation Frozen Timber, less Canadian cannabis was around and more ‘turkey bag’ cannabis from Northern California started flooding Oregon.
But by the time this decade rolled around, most of the cannabis that I saw was locally grown. I was an Oregon medical marijuana patient, and a surge in growers combined with the rise of dispensaries made it extremely easy to find world class cannabis in Oregon at the start of the 2010s. Dispensaries became regulated in 2013, and after limited recreational sales started in Oregon in 2015, a lot changed due to evolving cannabis laws in Oregon.
Zoom forward to today, and over 1700 applications for commercial cannabis production have been received by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission which oversees the adult-use cannabis industry in Oregon. More applications seem to be coming in every month, with no end in sight. It seems like every time I turn around there is someone on social media or in the news touting their new commercial cannabis garden in Oregon. That has proven to be both a blessing and a curse.
On one hand, cannabis is all over the place in Oregon now. I would argue that in the midst of ‘croptober’ Oregon has more cannabis within state borders than it has people to consume it. Everyone and their grandma seems to be jumping into Oregon’s industry. Oregon has the lowest barrier to entry in America for cannabis entrepreneurs, which combined with no residency requirements, has opened the floodgates to anyone and everyone that wants to get into the cannabis industry as a grower, retailer, and any other type of sector of the cannabis industry.
This has created a situation in which large companies from outside of Oregon are setting up shop here. Some of them are only in Oregon, but many of them have operations in other states as well. A lot of the larger companies that I have seen are entities that lost out on a license in a state that has a cap on cannabis business licenses such as in Illinois and New York. Oregon has rapidly become what I call a ‘resume building state,’ with large companies coming here to not necessarily turn a profit, but to use Oregon as a stepping stone towards getting a license in another state.
States with a limited number of licenses heavily scrutinize companies that want to obtain a license. I learned about this from an entrepreneur from Illinois who had spent over a million dollars trying to get a license in Illinois. He was under the impression that he would get multiple licenses in Illinois, but he actually didn’t receive any licenses at all. He expressed some concern at the time, stating that if they didn’t get the licenses that they had hoped for it would be because they didn’t already have a footprint in the industry to point to. They had teamed up with a business in Colorado to help improve their chances of getting a license, but had no experience cultivating or distributing cannabis themselves. I have not talked to the guy since our initial hangout session, but I assume the reason his company didn’t get a license was due to the fact that they didn’t have a proven track record of success in the cannabis industry.
The guy I met from Illinois is not alone. A lot of people lost out on licenses in various states. Many of them have done their homework and realized that Oregon is much easier to obtain a license in. Sure, it’s easy for everyone to get a license in Oregon, since it basically only requires zoning compliance, a favorable landlord, and thousands of dollars in fees (as opposed to millions of dollars for the process in other states). Competition is fierce in Oregon, but for these companies it’s not about making money, it’s about building their resume so that when more licenses open up in states that have license caps, they are in a strategic position to win a license or multiple licenses.
This has created a sad situation in my beloved state. People that have been cultivating cannabis for years in Oregon and fighting very hard for reform, and had plans of succeeding in a legal industry, are now being pushed out by corporate cannabis who do nothing to fight for reform. Veteran Oregon growers need their businesses to succeed in order to maintain their livelihood, but they are increasingly being pushed out by companies that have far more resources, and do not need to actually make money in order to consider their ventures to be successful.
If this is not alarming to you, chances are you either are not in the industry, or you may own or work for one of these large companies. Even consumers should be alarmed by this trend because ultimately it could result in products on shelves that are not of the highest quality, and consumer dollars going towards companies that do not value the state of Oregon, its citizens, or the principles that cannabis advocates have stood and fought for over the course of decades.
Some people will cite the lack of residency requirements as the source of this growing issue, but I don’t agree. Residency requirements are extremely easy to get around with some crafty structuring by an attorney. The only thing that will combat the issue is entrepreneurs banding together, and consumers doing their homework to ensure that their dollars are going to companies that are good stewards of the cannabis plant. That’s why I encourage industry members to join the Craft Cannabis Alliance, and for consumers to support companies that are members of it. I am not a member of the organization, and make this endorsement on my own free will, completely free of any influence. They are doing amazing things, and helping ensure that Oregon’s cannabis industry benefits Oregonians, and not just national and international corporate interests.
Corporate cannabis is not going anywhere. Unfortunately it is here to stay in Oregon, and there’s not really anything anyone can do to get corporate cannabis to entirely go away. But what we can do is be conscious consumers and entrepreneurs and educate others on what is truly Oregon craft cannabis, and what is just corporate cannabis with a well funded marketing strategy backing it up. What consumers really want is Oregon craft cannabis, not something that is labeled as craft cannabis but is actually grown by a company that has never fought for the plant and uses heavy metal fertilizers. I love the state of Oregon with all of my heart and soul, and I truly hope that the legal industry we have fought so hard to create truly makes Oregon a better place and provides its citizens with a chance to carve out their spot in the next great American industry. It would be soul crushing to see Oregon’s industry hijacked by corporate interests and jacktivists (which are everywhere here), and Oregon’s cannabis industry become nothing more than a glorified stepping stone for companies that have no interest in actually helping out this amazing state and its residents.