Everyone is talking about Oregon's weed surplus.
The state's licensed producers have logged a mountain of weed into the Oregon Liquor Control Commission's tracking system—well over three times the amount of total recreational cannabis consumed in 2017. In response to reports that hundreds of thousands of dollars in pot is moving through Portland International Airport, the OLCC responded by capping medical patient purchase limits, hoping to curb suspiciously large purchases that might indicate diversion to the black market.
Meanwhile, licensed growers across the state are going broke. And with October's harvest of sungrown cannabis on the horizon, the pot surplus is about to double.
Adam Smith has a single answer he believes can solve all the problems of this toxically saturated market at once: legalizing cannabis transfers between states with recreational cannabis laws.
"We legalized cannabis, but the only people making a living in the cannabis industry are the ones who decided not to get licenses," says Smith, director of the Craft Cannabis Alliance. "A licensed transfer into another legal state isn't radical. There is no faster way to incentivize growers to transition from the black market to the legal, regulated market than legalizing export."
Smith and the CCA are rallying support from cannabis businesses in anticipation of the upcoming legislative session., a campaign Smith is calling One Fix Cannabis. After a career in drug policy reform in Washington, D.C., Smith can see a trajectory that makes export legislation a real possibility within two years. He also sees this as the tipping point for the producers that are barely hanging on. A recent gathering at Coalition Brewing in Southeast Portland saw the brewery's patio packed with growers eager to learn more.
"This time last year, I was getting $1,800 to $2,200 per pound for my flower," says James Schwartz, owner of Cascade High farm. "Right now, I can get $500 to $800 per pound on average. Last year, I had 15 employees, and now I can only afford four. Most of us are on the verge of going out of business—we can't afford to wait another five years."
If the CCA turns to neighboring West Coast states to begin talks of interstate business, it's easy to imagine the fruitless argument for Northern California growers to invite Southern Oregon flower into their market. But a state where there isn't a legacy of cannabis cultivation, where the approval of Oregon imports is written into the initial, fundamental cannabis laws? That conversation makes sense.
"Take Metrc, the system the OLCC uses to track everything, from seed to sale," says Christopher Dolinar of Pilot Farms, a fellow board member of the CCA. "If New York decides to use Metrc as well, that makes business between those two states very easy to implement. All you have to add is a trucking system for transit."
That way, instead of being tasked with developing laws for retail, growing and testing all at once, legislators in New York, New Jersey or Massachusetts––states on the verge of implementing rec cannabis sales––have an initial batch of legal product ready for shelves and can focus on the rest of cannabis retail regulations, not to mention the marketability of Pacific Northwest-grown cannabis.
"When it comes to sungrown, soil-grown flower, they simply can't grow the way we do on the East Coast," says Dolinar. "Definitely not at these price points."
Smith's plan starts in the Oregon Senate.
"All we need to get the ball rolling is a bill that gives permission for the OLCC to allow legal exports between Oregon and other legal states," Smith says. "We are a state that has a part-time legislature, with a 30-day session every other year, then one long session every two years. So if we don't get a bill passed this cycle, we have to start over in two years."
Smith is already in talks with legislators like state Sen. Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene) and Rep. Carl Wilson (R-Grants Pass), who he says will be "champions" for cannabis exports during February's legislative session. Cannabis business owners can go to the CCA's website to sign up for time slots to speak with their representatives during the legislative session in Salem, and everyone who can is encouraged to donate what they can to help fund lobbying efforts.
"Exports don't solve everything," Smith says. "But no conversation about cannabis—whether it's talking economic potential or legal weed being diverted to the illegal market—is complete without acknowledging the logical move toward legalizing cannabis exports."