Marijuana Is Respectable Now

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The Westside Economic Alliance’s breakfast forum on legal marijuana was proof positive that the corporatization of weed is underway.

Now that it’s legal, public figures no longer flee the subject of marijuana. There were several pols in attendance, including State Rep. Lou Frederick, Washington County Chair Andy Duyck, Clackamas County’s John Ludlow, Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle, and Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp. However, the stage was bare of corporate sponsorship banners.

State Representative Ann Lininger talked about how the state was dealing with a “cultural shift” like the end of Prohibition.

The room perked up at the mention of large numbers.

This is a big economic opportunity. She said the annual value of the legal cannabis market in the country in 2015 was over $5 billion.

“By 2020 it’s expected to be $21 billion, and $1 billion of that will be in Oregon. That’s about the size of our nursery activity.”

She links with craft consumables (beer and wine), which could revive rural parts of the state, with traded sector opportunities, and tourism, such as “bud and breakfasts.” She said she was glad to see the end of the rule that you have to be a resident in Oregon at least two years before being an owner or investor in cannabis businesses. Ditto the redundancy of having to get separate licenses for medical and recreational marijuana when they can be sold in the same store.

Ree Armitage from U.S. Senator Ron Wyden's office said the Federal Government is working on the lagging issue of when banks will be able to handle the money. (Many growers drive to Salem with bags of cash to pay their taxes.) He pointed out that people in the pot business have upwards of 75 percent tax liability, which must come down. Pressing issues include research into veterans’ use of marijuana for PTSD, and the expunging of marijuana crimes from people’s personal records. He said many more states will “move into the legal column” in November 2016. “It could soon be over 30.” Changing pot’s status as a Schedule 1 (hard) drug can’t be far away.

Sara Batterby from Hifi Farms talked about her former life in the venture capital hotbed of Silicon Valley to her move to the Portland area in December 2014. When she arrived she did the things expected of her, such as “interviewing at Nike, and meeting all the VC people around town, which is about five of them,” but was seduced by the burgeoning marijuana industry. Her grower friends asked her to look into the business side of it.

“I was blown away.” She said the cannabis sector was several steps ahead of the technology startup scene in terms of what is possible in innovation and business development.

Batterby wanted to bring her money raising skills and business acumen to the cottage industry. The 50 acre Hifi Farms in Hillsboro (“a Clean Green Certified craft cannabis cultivation company”) has greenhouses and indoor growing. (The Hifi Farms Instagram feed is two-thirds plants, one-third grip-and-grin business photos.)

Batterby started a chapter of Women Grow here, to encourage female growers to unite, and said the PTA moms were a force to be reckoned with.

“These were smart, active entrepreneurs with products on shelves, women who had never had an opportunity to be acknowledge as professionals. They were in the closet, running the PTA and making edibles on their kitchen.”

She said the numbers of tax revenue, looking at Colorado, is going to be staggering. and that growers CPAs are telling them to start filing back taxes now.

Tigard Mayor John Cook talked about the difficulties of zoning along Highway 99. “It’s a cash business,” he reminded the room. He wants dispensaries to be in safe, pedestrian-friendly areas, not hidden behind bushes or worse, zoned into industrial parks where pot shoppers have to tangle with semi trucks. There is only one dispensary in Tigard, and that

As for marijuana being “walked all the way back,” in Armitage’s words, by an unfriendly future administration, Batterby did not think it would happen. “That concern is not slowing the flow of capital into the industry. It’s not a significant risk. Capital is a good indicator of sentiment.”

(Courtesy of Pamplin Media Group)

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