By Kerry Harwin
Despite the seemingly endless line of new cannabis ventures in Portland, our streets would undoubtedly be crowded with even more green crosses if the other kind of green weren't in short supply.
As ATM-fee-paying consumers of the plant know, most banks won't do business with companies that, in industry parlance, "touch the leaf." Not only are debit cards unwelcome, but many traditional routes of business finance are closed to growers and sellers.
So how do you live the dream and make money on weed?
We sat down with Brad Blommer and Perry Salzhauer of Portland's Green Light Law Group, to discuss the options for budding entrepreneurs.
1. Hit up your friends and family.
If they're smart, those close to you probably know any new business venture is risky, especially when the president and attorney general are deeply opposed to weed and the market is competitive. Still, this is the most frequently traveled route, and awkward conversations are often an unfortunate but necessary part of getting a cannabis business off the ground.
"It's by far the most common route for smaller companies," Blommer says. "Just leveraging friends and family to get their feet off the ground."
With dispensaries, this usually means asking for loans. For cannabis production, it often means that one partner brings growing expertise while another brings the land.
If you're new to the industry and don't have any ideas yet, stop reading here and go update your résumé. Other financiers aren't going to talk to you until you have some experience.
2. Shop your business plan at an industry event.
Cannabis industry events can be found all over the country, but Oregonians have more than most. From formal trade shows, like the recent Cannabis Collaborative Conference, to more relaxed gatherings, like the golf and bowling tournaments put on by Portland's Fore Twenty Sports, industry events provide crucial networking spaces for newbies.
You can meet partners with industry experience and attend investment workshops to cultivate contacts that may lead to cash.
3. Get your prospectus to a private equity fund.
We won't bullshit you: If you've flipped to your favorite alternative weekly for investment advice, you probably don't have the size and savvy to show up on the radar of the formal private equity industry.
But the role of this investment, often from out-of-state players, is growing exponentially, according to Blommer.
"You need to have an established brand," he says. "If you can show them you've been making some money…and you have a brand they believe in, we're seeing some of these private equity companies try to buy you out or work out some kind of partnership deal."
4. Maybe, just maybe, you can get a loan.
People do get traditional loans for cannabis businesses—but there are some catches. First, you need collateral. If you have it, "you can find hard money lenders," Salzhauer says.
Still, that's typically only available to finance the real estate portion of your venture, he explains, and "you really need to be dialed in to the real estate finance world."
Start by talking to lawyers who represent real estate financiers. If you don't happen to have any real estate financiers among your contacts, the Arcview Group, a California-based cannabis consulting and investment adviser, is the dominant industry connector for cannabis deals.
5. Try China?
Salzhauer and Blommer both say they've heard from clients that Chinese investors have recently arrived in Oregon, looking to put money in the industry. When asked if they're comfortable being quoted on that, the two lawyers took a long pause before making it clear they've heard nothing more than rumors at this point.
So while we can't direct potential entrepreneurs down any specific avenues, Mandarin fluency may soon be a tactical advantage in Oregon's cannabis industry.