How Oregon’s Cannabis Industry Plans To Keep Wealth Here, and Help Right the Wrongs of the Drug War

"This is Oregon’s next craft industry, and we are at risk of not owning any of it.”

(Federica Ubaldo)

There's something special about Oregon's cannabis community. Besides our long history of cultivation and breeding, we've done groundbreaking research and innovation that focuses on understanding cannabis as a plant. Most of our successful dispensaries, farms and industry organizations are led by the same people who went to Salem to advocate for intelligent legislation.

But if you talk to those people, they'll tell you they feel threatened.

"There's this core of the industry here of people who care deeply, and they are under threat," says Adam Smith, founder and director of the Craft Cannabis Alliance. "They are not just under threat by the federal government and overwhelming regulation, but by the local people who are behaving badly and all the out-of-state money already finding its way into the state, particularly from Canada. This is Oregon's next craft industry, and we are at risk of not owning
any of it."

Smith is a veteran of the cannabis world. Born in New York and raised in the thick of the drug war, he spent more than 20 years working in drug policy reform in Washington, D.C. Lately, he's been thinking about what "craft" means in Oregon, and how it could save our state's industry from becoming corporatized with a few major players owning most of the game.

The idea behind his alliance is that it's easier to prevent corporatization than to battle our way out of it. Just think about beer, and how a few brands took over, leaving microbreweries to later take on Budweiser.

"Golden Leaf Holdings bought out Chalice Farms last summer—the seventh Oregon brand they've acquired, " says Smith. "Multiple Canadian investment firms have millions of dollars behind them, because they have real financial institutions behind the investors up there."

Because Canada's equivalent of the Federal Reserve doesn't have strict rules against pot investment, Canadians enter the cannabis game with deeper pockets than almost anyone in Oregon. They have the power to push small locals right off the shelves. Right now, the product has to be grown and processed within the state. But when a business is majority-owned by out-of-state investors, Oregon farms become factory farms with low-paid labor, and the real wealth accumulates somewhere else.

"If you can use your muscle to dominate this industry, when the walls come down and we can export across the country and the rest of the world, those are the companies that will own this industry," Smith says.

How do we avoid turning our esteemed cultivation community into sharecroppers?

The plan now is to define a class of local craft cannabis, so consumers can shop smart and help build strong local businesses.

Smith and his alliance settled on six criteria for craft cannabis certification: clean product, sustainable methods, ethical employment practices, local control, community engagement and meaningful participation in the movement to end the drug war.

"Without that participation," adds Smith, "we're just profiteering off of 80 years of misery and broken lives."

The association launched at the Cultivation Classic last May, and has grown into a large group of companies that includes Farma, Evolvd, Alter Farms, Mule Extracts, East Fork Cultivars, Quill and Empower Body Care.

Founding members also include Jesce Horton of the Minority Cannabis Business Association and Resource Innovation Institute, who along with other third-party certifiers like the Cannabis Certification Council, will help form the specific

"I think that everyone wants to create a better industry, and understanding the differentiation and importance of craft cannabis will get us there," says Horton, who got national buzz in August when spearheading a boycott of the Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition in L.A. because of keynote speaker Roger Stone, former campaign adviser to Presidents Nixon, Reagan and Trump.

"If we're going to make this a better industry, we have to be careful about the compromises that we make," says Horton. "To prop up someone with such a history of racist and misogynist rhetoric as a keynote speaker at this event makes it impossible for [our group] to be involved."

The move prompted several other organizations and brands to pull out of the Expo, and eventually Stone's invitation to speak was withdrawn.

Following the success of that stance, Horton is currently working with the city to distribute a portion of the citywide cannabis tax revenue to communities who have been targeted during the War on Drugs.

"There is a commission that is deciding where the revenue will go," says Horton. "As the first municipality to pass a tax like this, the country and the world are watching. We have an opportunity to make a strong statement and help a lot of people."

It's not too late, Horton says. If we want to build wealth here, in our communities, we can take action to guide the trajectory of the industry.

If we create an authentic value around the craft definition, he adds, it can monetize doing the right thing.

"It's not that radical to say, 'How about we be decent human beings?'" says Smith. "We are running out of time, but there's a lot to save."

Welcome to the Harvest Issue 2017

Nine Of Our Favorite New Portland Weed Hookups—Including One Delivery Service

The Story of Portland Cannabis As Told Through the Iconic Cultivars of the Pacific Northwest

The 17 Cannabis-Centric Events We're Most Excited About This Fall

Here's Why You Can't Get High Just By Eating Weed Flowers or Throwing Them in Brownie Mix

One Oregon Cannabis Farm Is Setting Out To Be Entirely Carbon-Neutral

How Oregon's Cannabis Industry Plans To Keep Wealth Here, and Help Right the Wrongs of the Drug War

Here's a List of Some of Our Favorite Cannabis Bargains

How To Make Pot Chips Using the Leftover Leaves From Your Marijuana Harvest

Our Favorite New Cannabis Products for Autumn 2017

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.