Cannabis Is Now Legal In Oregon. What’s Next May Not Work For Everyone.

An image of a cannabis leaf superimposed over an outline of the State of Oregon

NOW THAT Measure 91 has passed, it’s worth examining the fresh challenges awaiting those in the cannabis industry.

First, consider that this is an industry started and developed by outlaws.

These are people who have spent years, if not decades, working and living in the shadows.

Because of their source of income, most have been unwilling to open bank accounts, apply for charge cards, or generally undertake actions that could establish credit records and ratings.

Perhaps the good folks at American Express would accept “weed dealer” as a profession on a credit card application, but few wished to find out.

It’s true that these individuals developed certain skills that were invaluable in the underground market.

But as things evolve toward legalization and regulation, it raises the question of whether there’s a place at the new canna-business table for those who have been historically part of the underground weed economy.

To be a legitimate contender in the developing legal market, the “outlaws” are at a distinct disadvantage.

Their competition will be primarily new “big canna” business: investors from well-financed venture capitalist firms and hedge-fund operations.

You have to wonder if people who have worked largely by and for themselves, making their own rules, are down with having every aspect of their activities being heavily scrutinized.

It’s asking a great deal from anyone, much less someone to whom the term “issues with authorities” can be charitably applied. They face competitors with greater resources, established connections, and greater experience in starting and maintaining a legal business.

In Oregon’s current medical marijuana program, profiting is strictly forbidden. It leaves the dealings between the grower, patient, and caretaker somewhat vague.

That won’t be the case with the emerging recreational market. It’s likely we’ll see a divide grow between traditional cannabis producers and those who see pot strictly as a commodity to be bought, sold, and marketed like any other.

It’s doubtful, for example, that the new wave of ganjapreneurs is going to consider providing low- to no-cost medicine to those in need.

On the other hand, there are benefits of a regulated market. Testing and quality control ensure a safer product for users. Competition forces a better array of products and pricing.

The greatest asset to established growers and providers is their long and involved knowledge of the product.

But in order to maintain a place in the developing market, they’ll also need to take on new skills: strict bookkeeping practices, managing cash flow, package design and marketing, developing brand awareness, launching and maintaining a social media presence, and so on.

Someone who has chosen to live in relative anonymity for years or decades may have trouble adjusting to a “Look at me, everyone!” business mindset.

Weed is going to be commodified and commercialized in Oregon, and the best-case scenario for the future market is for it to resemble the existing coffee and beer industries: larger, branded providers coexisting with smaller craft purveyors.

In order for that to happen, experienced growers and dealers need to make sure they don’t get sidelined by deep-pocketed investors who smell another gold rush on the West Coast.

Josh Taylor is a well-known and successful entrepreneur in the legal cannabis space, producing B2B and B2C cannabis events, "Backstage Budtending" and upscale concierge services through his companies and His weekly syndicated newspaper column and features about cannabis ran for five years until March 2020.

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