A Beverly Hills Lawyer Invested in Oregon Weed. Not All of the Crop Seems to Have Stayed in Oregon.

The Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission was never able to conclude the farm’s owner authorized the leakage.

Barbed wire surrounds Portnoff's property in Cave Junction. (Lucas Manfield)

One of the many weed entrepreneurs to descend on Cave Junction during the green rush was Matthew Portnoff, a partner with a specialty in cannabis law at the California offices of a white-shoe law firm.

In 2020, the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission determined that weed grown at his farm in 2019 had been diverted onto the black market. But after a yearslong investigation, the agency was never able to prove Portnoff authorized the leakage.

Portnoff declined to comment for this story, but has long contended in OLCC filings that he was the victim of a swindle. (After publication, he contacted WW and pointed out that the OLCC had removed its initial mention of his potential involvement by the time he agreed to a settlement.)

A graduate of UC Berkeley and the University of Southern California’s law school, Portnoff, 48, is an expert in tax law based in Beverly Hills, with a history of entrepreneurial forays. (An online database lists him as a producer of a romantic comedy starring Paris Hilton in 2006 that was panned by critics.)

In 2016, Portnoff and his wife, Luiza, purchased a Cave Junction farm for $415,000 just as the state began handing out licenses to grow recreational weed. (An LLC controlled by his father, a surgeon from California, bought 19 acres next door to his son for the same purpose.)

Two years later, Portnoff and his wife landed a license. So, eventually, did his dad. They grew thousands of plants on the 35-acre properties located along Takilma Road in the rural farmland of the Illinois Valley.

To run his new Oregon farm, Portnoff hired a local grower named Michael Horner, who’d come recommended by a California client.

But by the time the first harvest arrived, an oversupply of weed on the market caused prices in Oregon to fall by at least half.

And beginning in February 2019, the OLCC began documenting a series of concerning reports from Portnoff’s employees.

First, Horner quit his job working for Portnoff and told an OLCC inspector in February 2019 that men had arrived on the farm to take weed back to California for sale.

A month later, the inspector went to the farm to investigate. State-licensed farms are required to have surveillance cameras monitoring all aspects of the operation. But in March 2019, the inspector discovered a four-day gap in the footage—and found “many discrepancies” between the inventory on site and what was recorded in a state database. The inspector opened some storage totes to find them empty or full of “waste material.” (The OLCC declined to disclose the records identifying the discrepancies to WW, noting they were exempt from public disclosure.)

The OLCC suspected a man named Sam Foy, a consultant hired by Portnoff on retainer, was responsible. He’d arrived with three carloads of workers and was overheard talking about taking the weed “down to ‘cali,’” according to an email from another employee to the OLCC.

But it was unclear whether Portnoff knew of Foy’s alleged plan. Foy, now living in Malibu, could not be reached for comment.

Portnoff has denied allegations of wrongdoing, and his attorney says Horner stole thousands of dollars in farm equipment.

On Sept. 15, 2020, the state agency proposed canceling Portnoff’s license for violating state law. Someone at the farm, the OLCC wrote, had “exported marijuana items from this state.” Agency officials later specified that Foy had diverted the weed but did not say where it went or whether Portnoff knew.

On Sept. 24, 2021, the OLCC and Portnoff settled. “The owner hired a contractor who abused his authority by removing marijuana from the premises that was untracked and therefore went to an unknown destination,” the OLCC said in a synopsis attached to the settlement agreement. The agency compelled Portnoff to surrender his license by the end of the year.

In December, Portnoff asked to add his name to his father’s license for the property now growing cannabis next door. The OLCC said if he did so, it would consider revoking that license too, citing his “poor record of compliance.”

Portnoff sued in Marion County Circuit Court this past July. And, on Nov. 9, he won—on a technicality. The state had missed a filing deadline. To add insult to injury, the OLCC was ordered to pay Portnoff’s $5,000 legal bill.

The OLCC didn’t appeal. Portnoff is now back in business.

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