It took only three days of legalization for people to get pissy about legal weed in Oregon.
And, no, it wasn't the rednecks.
It was a historic event. Organizers are to be commended for pulling it off, even if a handful of people have demanded refunds, given the hourslong lines and the "1 gram" samples that didn't weigh out. And even if a few people required medical attention for heat exhaustion—thankfully, nobody who passed out fell and hit their heads. If they had, Fox News and The Oregonian surely would have seized the chance to demonize weed.
Now that the seal has been broken, it's important that future cannabis events be better organized if they're to win favorable treatment under the Oregon Liquor Control Commission's coming regulations.
How do we do that? Well, I'm not an event planner—I don't set water-bottle policy for events nor do I take a cut of ticket sales—but here are three things I think everyone should keep in mind going forward.
Let's push event planners to err on the side of leaving money on the table…
Welp, the green rush is here. Everybody has their grubby little paws out. Local media are showing up late to the party—this paper has Portland's oldest pot column, and it only dates to 2013. We're interlopers in this industry, and we need to be respectful of the people who built it during prohibition, when they risked jail to birth this bountiful era. That means we err on the side of caution—maybe selling fewer tickets, putting up shade tarps and giving away lots and lots of water. One commenter on Tyler Hurst's event recap for the Potlander put it like this:
"The path to legalization has been long, and the victory hard-won. Capitalizing on that success with a miserably planned event at $40 a head is nothing less than a cynical insult to the cannabis community. It validates every fear that the advent of recreational use will usher in an era of predatory corporate behavior that cannabis culture has been, to date, a rare refuge from in the culture at large."
Let's be open about who's planning and profiting from weed events…
Organizers passed up some opportunities for transparency that they maybe shouldn't have. No one likes to listen to journalists bicker about ethics, and we don't need a #ganjagate. But it's worth noting that Weed the People was organized by Josh Taylor, the Mercury's pot columnist, who writes under the pseudonym Josh Jardine. Taylor took a share of the profits through his company, Oregon's Cannabis Concierge. (Taylor did not respond to requests for comment.)
This would have been a good time for Taylor to state clearly that by "inform them about the event," he meant persuading business owners to give away product and that he would personally profit from their generosity.
After tickets sold out On June 24, Taylor disclosed that he owns Oregon's Cannabis Concierge, which sponsored the event. (Note: Mercury Publisher Rob Thompson writes to point out there was a disclosure in an announcement posted June 10 and also says that the event did not sell out until June 26, after the second disclosure. )
Based on the widely reported attendance of 1,500 and the ticket price of $40, the event grossed some $60,000, before sponsorships. Taylor didn't keep all that money, of course, but it's still a huge pile of cash. Mercury Publisher Rob Thompson declined to discuss the terms of his deal with his writer/promoter, saying only, "Weed the People was a huge success."
From a financial standpoint, yes. It typically costs $3,000 to rent the bare-bones space they chose in North Portland. Although the event has been described as a "shitshow" on social media, there's little doubt that future events will sell out, too. But is any cannabis event truly a success if people leave less excited about the product?
Let's remember we need to take care of this delicate seedling of an industry…
Believe it or not, not everyone involved in cannabis is driving 'Raris and Rovers, rolling blunts with Cohiba Esplendidos and collecting custom Illadelph glass.
Oregon cannabis is an emerging industry. Sure, some people have deep pockets through venture capitalists or history on the black market. But lots of other Portland dispensary owners are dreamers and scrappers. They've invested what they can to build out dispensaries for recreational customers. That market will not be open for months, so they're battling to stay afloat on the limited pool of medical clients. Giving away thousands of dollars in product is a major investment for them—we all need to make sure they're in a place to have positive interactions with potential customers.
There's a lot of opportunity, and everyone wants a piece of the action. That's cool. But the people who build a lasting business are going to be the ones who take care of their customers. Once the novelty of legal weed wears off, either you've got people who value your product or you don't. That goes for all of us.
UPDATE: Josh Taylor has published a post explaining the challenges of the event.
"I got on the mic to ask attendees to please limit their questions to the growers, quickly collect their samples, and move along as a courtesy to those behind them. I asked the growers the same.... How do you tell someone asking if a strain is good for chemo treatments to move along? What about a 70-something attendee who says they "have been waiting for this moment for 50 years?" You don't."