Last Friday I enjoyed hearing Oregon State Senator Ginny Burdick and Sara Batterby, CEO of HiFi Farms and a founding chair of Women Grow, update a Salem City Club audience about what's happening with marijuana in this state.
West Salem Cannabis had a display set up in an adjoining room. Unfortunately they couldn't give out any free samples, nor sell anything outside of their store. I hugely enjoyed seeing fellow semi-staid City Club members browsing the cannabis offerings and talking about pot with the friendly West Salem Cannabis employees.
Yes, Oregon, along with other legal weed states, has come a long way. Burdick started out by reminding us of our state's pioneering efforts to bring reasonableness to marijuana policies.
In 1973 the state legislature decriminalized small amounts of marijuana. In 1997 Republicans tried to recriminalize it, but this was turned down by voters. In 1998 Oregonians voted to approve medical marijuana. In 2014 Measure 91 passed, making recreational marijuana legal. In 2015 the Oregon legislature passed a package of bills to refine Measure 91 and put light regulation on the medical marijuana system. Now, in 2017, the legislature is working to strengthen regulation on medical-only growers.
Burdick said that while the medical marijuana system is popular -- 75,000 card holders in 2016 -- too much of the pot is being diverted to the black market. Since Jeff Sessions, President Trump's Attorney General, hates cannabis, Burdick told us that the goal is make Oregon's "seed to sale" tracking program so effective, this state will be the last place the feds would want to crack down on.
As is well-known, banking is a big problem for marijuana businesses. Many/most retail stores have to deal in cash, which makes paying their employees and taxes to the Department of Revenue a lot tougher than it needs to be. Efforts are underway in Congress to fix this.
In 2016 marijuana tax receipts totaled $60 million, much higher than expected. So cannabis is becoming a major economic force in Oregon.
Sara Batterby then took over the podium and gave an entertaining talk (in a pleasing British accent) about Oregon marijuana from a business perspective.
She extolled Oregon, saying what is going on here is "really phenomenal." Batterby praised the collaboration between legislators, regulators, and cannabis businesses in this state. According to her we grow and sell some of the highest quality cannabis in the world.
(Legal weed certainly has enriched my life; in fact, I'd call it a near-necessity following Trump's election to keep my psyche from exploding in frustration, irritation, and exasperation over what's happening nationally.)
If my scribbled notes are correct, Batterby said that Oregon's marijuana industry has created 12,500 jobs -- double that if ancillary jobs are included. She formed a women's networking group (a Women Grow chapter) when she came to Oregon that started with 100 women and is now up to 325.
Forty-four percent of Oregon cannabis companies are headed by women, which makes this sector one of the most diverse gender-wise in the world's economy. Batterby said she also hires quite a few veterans with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), which is helped a lot by cannabis consumption.
Batterby and Burdick talked quite a bit about the black market in both their remarks and a following Q & A session.
Legal marijuana businesses can't compete with the black market on price, in part because illegal growers/sellers don't pay taxes. Thus higher taxes lead to lower legal sales and less tax revenue.
It was estimated that $300 million is lost via "diversion sales." When asked about the difference in price on the black market, we were told that the legal wholesale price is about $5/gram, and $6 to $12 at the retail level. The black market price is about 25% less.
When the subject of CBD (the mostly non-psychoactive component of cannabis) came up, Batterby said that THC (the psycho-active component) is a potentiator of CBD. So CBD and THC play nicely together and, in her view, the whole plant is the best use.
Regarding how cannabis is consumed, old-timers are used to smoking marijuana. (I can testify to this, having gone to college in the San Francisco Bay area in the late 1960's.) But now the largest market is in vaporizers, tinctures, edibles, topicals.
It was great to hear these two women talk so knowledgeably about the Oregon marijuana scene. This Salem City Club presentation reinforced my long-standing belief that I couldn't live in any other state.
Legal pot. Legal right-to-die. Beautiful scenery. I don't have to fill my car's gas tank. Liberal-leaning. Public beaches up and down the coast. Mostly strongly environmental (though this legislative session is turning out to be a disappointment).
Now Oregon needs to erase more of the distinctions between alcohol and cannabis consumption. It seems crazy that people can drink in bars and restaurants, but can't legally consume marijuana in public. This doesn't make sense. For one thing, I'd much rather have mildly-stoned people driving around than mildly-drunk people.