oregon marijuana cannabis
Time to kick back and consider Oregon cannabis.

On January 31, the Oregon Secretary of State released an audit of Oregon marijuana regulation. The audit is a hefty 37 pages, but its core findings are listed right there on the cover sheet: “Oregon’s framework for regulating marijuana should be strengthened to better mitigate diversion risk and improve laboratory testing.” Now: we would all like to see less diversion and better testing, but those findings are not exactly surprising. And no one should expect big fixes anytime soon.

Below is some straight talk about the audit’s two primary conclusions, and a few thoughts about where things are headed.

  1. Much of the medical market is a black market and diversion is unstoppable at this time.

The Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (OMMA) was passed over 20 years ago, in 1998. As we explained a few years back, OMMA was (and is) little more than an affirmative defense for designated marijuana possessors and distributers from state criminal prosecution, and from federal hassles to the extent possible. Those are commendable goals, but the program never made sense from a commercial perspective. Thus, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) has always found itself in the unenviable position of struggling to write rules around legislation that creates a marketplace while ignoring the market itself.

When the legislature did decide to shepherd the primitive market, it did so in fits and starts. It took seven years to put a grow site registry together, and fifteen years for dispensary licensing. Heck, even the first grow site inspections (and there haven’t been many) didn’t occur until 2016. All of this was toothpicks and BAND-AIDS. And all the while, many people made money trading in the “medical” market. Did a lot of that weed and cash make its way across the country? You bet.

Even if Oregon were to follow the audit recommendations, however, and ramp up funding for inspections and enforcement in both the OHA and OLCC (adult use) programs, there are inherent and well documented limits to supply-side efforts when it comes to federally controlled substances. Oregon can invest heavily in keeping its cannabis under seal, but its energy would be better focused on federal lobbying to de- or reschedule marijuana under the federal Controlled Substances Act, or even on longshot solutions like promotion of interstate marijuana exchanges.

The state should also continue to push medical marijuana regulation, including enforcement, into the OLCC purview. The audit briefly suggests as much, and we’ve been talking about that forever on this blog. It’s not such a political quagmire anymore, especially as more overlap comes with each legislative session. The fundamental question is this: why have a revenue raising agency and a health authority both focus on intensive regulation of the same plant, especially when both are under-supported? It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Finally, here’s the part that administrators, legislators and even executive branch actors aren’t saying out loud: leakage into interstate commerce really doesn’t matter at this point, especially if the state is running its studies and making token efforts to stop it. There may be some federal enforcement against black market actors (which is great), but no one is shutting these state programs down. In 2019, cannabis leakage exerts more pressure on the feds to find legislative solutions than enforcement ones.

  1. Testing is a tough issue, but more fixable.

Back in the day, when OHA first started licensing dispensaries, there were no real rules around testing. People would take weed to labs with inadequate equipment and inconsistent practices. They would leave with unreliable results. In 2016, when OHA began accrediting the first laboratories for the medical and adult use (OLCC) markets, not many of them signed up. In the OLCC market, this meant bottlenecks for an extended period.

Nowadays, all cannabis making its way to retail sale is tested more strictly than other agricultural crops, but medical marijuana outside that channel typically goes untested (unless the flower is processed by a medical marijuana processor, which is pretty niche). That’s a shame because medical marijuana patients are the ones who would benefit from testing the most: many of these individuals have conditions like cancer and HIV that directly compromise their immune systems. And roughly 10% of Oregon’s medical marijuana patient community includes children under 18 years of age and seniors over 70.

As far as testing issues that affect our industry clients (OLCC businesses and financiers) the audit recommends expanding testing requirements to screen for microbiological and heavy metal testing, and it promotes “shelf audits” at dispensaries. In theory, those steps could drive up costs along the supply chain, but we wouldn’t expect much variance. Altogether, the testing push is more about protecting vulnerable individuals in Oregon, including people in limited, patient-caregiver relationships. We can get behind that.

In late January, Portland hosted the Cannabis Collaborative Conference (“CCC” or “Conference”), an annual forum created by cannabis industry leaders, aimed at addressing the most pressing issues facing this emerging market. This year’s conference focused on the future of the cannabis industry.

Rick Garza, Director of the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (“WLCB”), was one of the key speakers at this year’s Conference. Mr. Garza discussed the possibility of Washington state allowing small cannabis farmers to sell directly to consumers. This practice would be comparable to that allowed for wineries, breweries and distilleries. If approved by the Washington State Legislature, this move would afford small growers an opportunity to increase their sales and, consequently, boost the local economy. This initiative would mirror the practice adopted by several Canadian provinces, which allow licensed producers to sell marijuana to consumers at cultivation facilities, and states like Colorado and Oregon, which authorize licensed cannabis growers to concurrently hold retailer licenses.

washington oregon cannabis marijuanaThe Washington cannabis regulator was also joined by Steve Marks, Executive Director of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (“OLCC”). Both discussed upcoming changes to the Washington and Oregon programs, which respond to the ongoing and growing issues of oversupply. As we previously discussed, Oregon’s supply has far exceeded local demands: the state is currently sitting on approximately 1.4 million pounds of marijuana that state and federal laws prohibit from selling outside state lines. This tremendous oversupply in Oregon has caused prices to crater, putting many licensed growers on precariously thin ice. In 2018, the wholesale price of Oregon flower dropped from $3.90 per gram at the beginning of the year to $1.86 as of the end of the summer. Washington growers find themselves in an equally challenging situation.

In addressing the overproduction issue and interstate leakage, the OLCC leader said he expected more discussion about legislation capping the number of cannabis business licenses in Oregon. However, as we explained before, controlling supply by capping Oregon licenses as a fearful response to interstate leakage could also incentivize black markets, especially for Oregon sales, because a cap would increase the prices of cannabis.

Mr. Marks also shared that he has seen an infusion of capital into Oregon cannabis companies from investors who believe marijuana will become federally legal. Similarly to those investors, we believe federal legalization is merely a matter of time and that it will help put an end to unapproved interstate leakage. Indeed, the federal prohibition of cannabis is encouraging unscrupulous and desperate cannabis businesses to cut their losses and sell their surplus in the black market.

Although solving the issue of oversupply and interstate leakage will inevitably require the federal legalization of cannabis, it is encouraging to know that Washington and Oregon cannabis regulators are actively exploring ways to improve the industry and insure its sustainability. We expect to see some very important developments in both states in 2019, in addition to any federal law updates.

We have been critical of cities licensing cannabis businesses in the past. Cannabis businesses are taxed and regulated heavily enough at the state level–why involve cities as well? We have always thought that if a city is going to be involved in the licensing process, it might as well do some good along the way. Portland, Oregon has provided one example of what a city can do with those tax funds.

As many cities in Oregon have done, Portland imposes a 3% local tax on retail cannabis sales. The City allocated $500,000 of the taxes to support neighborhood small businesses, especially women-owned and minority owned businesses and to provide economic opportunity and education to communities disproportionately-impacted by cannabis prohibition. Of that $500,000, $150,000 was allocated to specifically reinvest in minority- owned cannabis businesses.

portland minority cannabis marijuanaTo receive a City Grant, a Cannabis Business must complete a Cannabis Tax Allocation Grant Application. The Grant Application requires the cannabis business to identify a project/program that meets the “Record Clearing” or “Workforce Development” goals of the grant. The Record Clearing goals focuses on awarding money to those that have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition by removing barriers to housing, employment and education through legal support including, expungement, fine reduction, and charge reduction. The Workforce Development goals focus on creating pathways for people disproportionately impacted by previous cannabis laws to obtain family-wage jobs, including training, mentorship, and other workforce reentry support.

The application is detailed and requires the applicant to explain the background and mission of their organization, specific examples of activities to be completed, major milestones, along with questions regarding budget. The Portland City Council then reviews the applications and allocates the grants.

The first recipients of grants intended to help communities historically harmed by cannabis prohibition were awarded on January 21, 2019. Green box, an African American owned cannabis delivery company, was awarded $30,000. Adrian Wayman has reported he intends to use the money to hire his first employee.

The second recipient of $30,000 is Green Hop. Green Hop is an African American owned dispensary in North Portland. Green Hop also runs the “Green Hop Academy”, an apprentice program that provides training to individuals who hope to one day own their own cannabis business.

The City plans to keep moving forward with the grants and has increased its allocations for the grants to $700,000 for the fiscal year 2018-2019. It is comforting to see money from cannabis taxes being reinvested into the community. While the grant application can seem daunting, it can certainly make a huge difference in the Portland community to assist those that historically have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition. Here’s to hoping other cities follow in Portland’s footsteps and reallocate taxes and other fees to good causes.

oregon industrial hemp cbd OLCC
Oregon hemp will see a little bit of each in 2019.

Last year was a big one for the Oregon industrial hemp program. If you recall, the state legislature enacted House Bill 4089, which provided a much needed regulatory framework for the crop and authorized its processing and sale into the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (“OLCC”) recreational market. To administer a portion of these statutory changes, OLCC drafted rule changes in September, which will soon be adopted.

However, a lot has happened since September. Indeed, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, more famously known as the “2018 Farm Bill,” became law last month. Specifically, the 2018 Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp by removing the crop from the Controlled Substance Act—this means no more risk of enforcement action by the U.S. Drug and Enforcement Agency because industrial hemp, including concentrates and extracts, is no longer treated as a Schedule I substance—and delegated authority to states to regulate and limit its production.

The federal legalization of industrial hemp has triggered numerous inquiries from our Oregon clients regarding the impact, if any, of the new federal bill on the most recent set of OLCC rules. This post aims to answer this question.

Although industrial hemp is no longer illegal under federal law, states are not yet authorized to hold primary regulatory authority over the production of the crop. Before they can exercise this option, states will need to submit a regulatory plan (the “Plan”) to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (the “USDA”) for approval. However, approval won’t be given until the USDA promulgates rules and regulations regarding those Plans, a process that will most certainly take months, possibly more if the government shuts down again.

Section 7605(b) of the 2018 Farm Bill further provides that:

Effective on the date that is 1 year after the date on which the [USDA] Secretary establishes a plan under section 297C of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946, section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (7 U.S.C. 5940) [the 2014 Farm Bill] is repealed.”

In other words, the 2018 Farm Bill won’t become effective until one year following the adoption of rules and regulations for the Plans by the USDA. Until then, the 2014 Farm Bill remains the legal framework under which state industrial hemp pilot programs operate.

Accordingly, states that have adopted an industrial hemp pilot program will continue to operate the way they have since before the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill into law. This means that the legal framework for interstate sales of Oregon hemp should not be affected. As far as sales into the OLCC market, growers, processors, and distributors will need to familiarize themselves with the new OLCC rules.

Under the OLCC rules, hemp handlers and growers will need to be certified by the Commission in order to place their products in the recreational market. The OLCC will then monitor and track this new input into the market via the Cannabis Tracking System (“CTS”). But hemp growers and handler certificate holders won’t be the only actors obliged to comply with these rules. Recreational licensees, processor licensees, and wholesale licensees will also be subject to a new set of guidelines.

For more information on these rules and how they might affect your business operations, don’t hesitate to contact our Portland office.

hemp cbd farm act

In December 2018, Congress passed the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (better known as the “Farm Bill”). Among other things, the passage of the bill removed industrial hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act, allowing legal production of the crop. Despite this landmark legislation, pitfalls still lay on the path ahead. The legality of many industrial-hemp derived cannabidiol (“CBD”) products is in question now more than ever, with different states and federal agencies taking vastly different approaches on every facet of the hemp CBD industry.

Interest in hemp is at an all-time high, and with an industry that has a potential to be worth $20 billion by 2022, it is easy to see why. If you are a hemp CBD business, have interest in the industry or are interested in the state and future of hemp CBD legality, please join us on February 21, 2019 at noon (PST) for the latest installment in our lunchtime webinar series entitled “West Coast Hemp CBD After the Farm Bill.”

In this hour-long session, Harris Bricken lawyers Daniel Shortt (Seattle, Washington), Nathalie Bougenies (Portland, Oregon), and Griffen Thorne (Los Angeles, California) will provide an in-depth look at changes in federal law and policy post Farm bill, as well as its impact on each of the three west coast states (Washington, Oregon, and California). Throughout the presentation our team will also discuss the status of laws and regulations in each state. Some of the topics we will cover include:

  • the future of hemp permitting;
  • Farm Bill implications for Internal Revenue Code section 280E;
  • banking for hemp CBD businesses;
  • intellectual property for hemp CBD businesses;
  • CBD in food, beverages, vape cartridges, oils, topicals, and other products; and
  • the Food and Drug Administration’s role in hemp CBD.

With moderator Hilary Bricken, our panel of attorneys will address audience questions throughout the presentation. Please register for the event here! Should you have any further questions, please feel free to reach us at firm@harrisbricken.com.

oregon marijuana OLCC violation
Make it happen!

I’ve been suspicious the last few months that the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) is starting to set a zero tolerance policy for marijuana rule violations. Unfortunately, the extrinsic evidence seems to be proving my suspicions.

As I’ve previously written, the OLCC settlement policies seemed to shift last September. In a first for the commission, they rejected a settlement proposal that would have allowed a licensee to keep its license and pay a fine. That particular licensee, Black Market Distribution, LLC, either needs to fight for its license at a hearing or surrender its license. The OLCC has not issued a final order related to Black Market Distribution yet and the company still have its license according to the approved license list. Only time will tell if Black Market Distribution is able to keep their license in light of the alleged violations.

As I wrote in November, if the OLCCs continued actions are any indication, Black Market Distribution may have little chance of keeping their license. In December, the OLCC seemed to continue down a path of refusing to settle cases unless the Licensee agrees to sell the business or surrender the license.

  • The OLCC alleged licensee Positive Vibrations committed four Category IV violations relating to advertising rules. The OLCC proposed a 34-day suspension or a civil penalty of $5,610. However, the OLCC and Positive Vibrations were able to reach a settlement agreement requiring Positive Vibrations to accept responsibility for the Category IV violations and either serve a 26 day suspension or pay a civil penalty of $4,290.00.
  • In the only other settlement agreement from December, the OLCC alleged licensee Greenway Ventures committed 10 violations, including two Category I violations. Even a single Category I violation is sufficient to revoke a license. Based on the violations, the OLCC proposed license cancellation. Greenway and the OLCC entered a settlement agreement that required Greenway to sell the business or surrender its license by March 30, 2019. Greenway must also accept a Letter of Reprimand for the violations that will become a permanent part of its file and may be considered in future applications. Further, the Greenway  had to forfeit 21 totes of marijuana to the OLCC for destruction.

Not only have we seen the OLCC entering into stricter and more stringent settlement agreements, but our office has seen a significant influx of charging documents issued by the OLCC. These usually come about after anonymous complaints are made to the OLCC regarding potential rule violations of the licensee. After an anonymous complaint is received by the OLCC, the OLCC assigns the complaint an investigator. The investigator then conducts inquiries and visits the licensed premises. The investigator will not only investigate the allegations of the complaint, but will also look into other practices of the licensee. This can often result in multiple rule violations.

So, what’s the takeaway? As we’ve said in the past (and will continue to say), the only way to avoid OLCC charging document exposure is to ensure compliance with the rules. How do you do that? The best way is to create a compliance position for your license, and designate or hire a compliance person. This might not be cheap but it will probably save you in the long run. That person’s job will be to keep up to date on OLCC rules (which are still being updated frequently), and to ensure that every aspect of the license is in compliance with those rules. Alternatively, split up the job among several experts. If you have someone running your Instagram account, for example, make it their job to ensure that every Instagram post and every marketing item that stems from the license complies with the rules. Have someone become an expert in CTS, tagging, and manifest. Etc. The bottom line is, make sure you have someone or a team of someones that know the rules inside and out, and isn’t shy about speaking up when practices are lax. If you and the compliance expert cannot figure something out, hire an attorney to review your practices. At the end of the day, it’s better to pay up front to ensure rule compliance rather than to pay the OLCC in penalty fees or lose your license altogether.

Pay those employees, non-exempt and otherwise.

I recently wrote about a case in the Tenth Circuit, Kenney v. Helix TCS, Inc., where the Court of Appeals is asked to decide if the Federal Labor Standards act (FLSA) provides wage and hour protection to employees of cannabis businesses. That case hasn’t seen much movement since I wrote about it, but its decision could have a significant impact on a case recently filed in Federal District Court in Oregon.

Michael Garity has filed a state and FLSA wage and hour claim against his former employer, WRD Investments LLC (“WRD Investments”). According to the complaint, Mr. Garity was hired by WRD Investments to provide expertise and labor in support of WRD Investments’ marijuana grow near Junction City, Oregon.

Mr. Garity alleges he was a “non-exempt” employee for WRD Investments. His status as a non-exempt employee would have required WRD Investments to pay Mr. Garity at least minimum wage for all hours worked and overtime rates for all hours worked over 40 hours per week. In the complaint, Mr. Garity alleges that between March 2016 through May 2017 he may have worked approximately 2500 hours without any compensation. He further alleges that he frequently worked over 40 hours per week without overtime pay.

Mr. Garity’s complaints do not stop there. Mr. Garity also alleges that WRD Investments failed to provide him with itemized statement of pay and failed to establishe regular pay days in violation of Oregon laws. The Complaint also states Mr. Garity incurred expenses on behalf of WRD Investments such as using his personal vehicle to conduct WRD Investment business without reimbursement from WRD Investments.

Mr. Garity’s complaint requests actual damages for unpaid minimum wage and overtime compensation plus an equal amount as liquidated damages and reimbursement for business related expenses, penalty wages under Oregon wage and hour laws, and attorney fees and costs. Mr. Garity’s complaint does not lay out a number, but based on my calculations WRD Investments could be on the hook for around $40,000 related to the FLSA claims alone. Should this matter proceed far into litigation, WRD Investments could also be on the hook for attorney fees which could eventually surpass the $40,000 number.

The Kenney case mentioned at the beginning of this post may have significant impact on Mr. Garity’s claims. Mr. Garity’s case is filed in a Ninth Circuit district court and nothing binds a Ninth Circuit court to follow a decision from the Tenth Circuit. However, the Ninth Circuit district court could be persuaded by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals decision and decide to follow its precedent. Alternatively, it could choose to ignore the precedent and decide to create its own path. Either way, it will be very interesting to see the legal arguments that are made in Mr. Garity’s case regarding whether the FLSA protects marijuana employees.

Regardless, a good lesson can be gleaned from Mr. Garity’s complaint. First, be sure you are properly classifying your employees as exempt or non-exempt. Second, and perhaps even more importantly, ensure that you are properly paying your employees. If you are ever concerned you are in violation of wage and hour laws, its always a good idea to have a cannabis employment law attorney review your payment procedures. It may cost some money up front but will likely save you much, much more in the long run.

oregon cannabis interstate salesOnce again, Oregon is working on becoming a marijuana maverick. The Beaver State is on the verge of introducing a bill that would allow marijuana exports to other states by 2021.

In an attempt to tackle the oversupply crisis that has plagued Oregon the last few years, the Craft Cannabis Alliance, an Oregon-based membership association of cannabis and allied businesses, has spearheaded a campaign aimed at reintroducing the idea of exporting Oregon cannabis, a plan that was first proposed in 2017 by Senator Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene).

The idea was memorialized in Senate Bill 1042, which would have permitted interstate transfers of cannabis products with adjacent legal states that complied with Oregon’s testing, packaging and labeling rules as well as any rules imposed by the receiving state. Although the original proposal died in the House last year, a lot has changed since then.

First, the popularity of marijuana among American adults has been on the rise. According to a 2017 Gallup survey, 64 percent of Americans favor the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes.

Second, Oregon’s supply has far exceeded local demands: the state is currently sitting on approximately 1.4 million pounds of marijuana that state and federal laws prohibit from selling outside state lines. This tremendous oversupply in Oregon has caused prices to crater, putting many licensed growers on precariously thin ice. Indeed, in 2018, the wholesale price of Oregon flower dropped from $3.90 per gram at the beginning of the year to $1.86 as of the end of the summer.

Third, interstate exporting has seen a growing support from lawmakers and local media.

So in theory, this idea should materialize; unfortunately, federal law remains in the way as we discussed last year.

Though the use and sale of recreational cannabis is currently legal in 10 states, the plant remains a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substance Act (“CSA”). Specifically, Section 801 of the CSA provides that the distribution of controlled substances in “interstate commerce and foreign commerce” justifies federal control of said substances. federal guidance also expressly forbid the “diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states.” Accordingly, federal law would put Oregon and other legal states engaged in such interstate transfers at great risk of federal enforcement actions and would most certainly compromise the cannabis exchange.

However, the passage of this idea into state law could arm the Beaver State with a big advantage. Specifically, the state would be able to start exporting its cannabis products the moment federal cannabis prohibition is lifted. Such strategic advantage would position Oregon as a leading marijuana exporter (assuming it can find some buyers) and would serve as an escape valve for the chronic oversupply issue.

For now, we must sit tight and see how the proposed bill, which has yet to be drafted, will be received by the Oregon legislature. We will keep you updated on this issue.

oregon employee medical marijuanaIt’s 2019 and Oregon employees can still be terminated for off-work marijuana use. That includes not just recreational use, but off-work medical use by registered cardholders in the Oregon Health Authority system– even patients with debilitating medical conditions like cancer or epilepsy. This means that Oregon, which has been on the forefront of decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, is no better than the most conservative jurisdictions when it comes to off-work use. What gives?

Back in 2017, the Oregon Senator Floyd Prozanski introduced Senate Bill 301. The bill would have protected employee off-work marijuana use—meaning employers could not terminate an employee for using marijuana outside of working hours, so long as it did not lead to on-the-job impairment. The bill faced opposition from industry groups related to worksite safety and federal law. Accordingly, the bill was amended to protect only off-work use by medical marijuana card holders, but this was still not enough to secure passage.

Never one to be stopped by a little failure, Senator Prozanski is back at it and has proposed a new bill, Legislative Concept 2152. The proposed bill is short and sweet. The relevant portion simply states:

It is an unlawful employment practice for any employer to require, as a condition of employment, that an employee or prospective employee refrain from using a substance that is lawful to use under the laws of this state during nonworking hours except when the restriction relates to a bona fide occupational qualification or the performance of work while impaired.”

However, it seems Senator Prozanski may not have learned any lessons from the 2017 session. The proposed bill does little to address industry concerns related to federal government contractors. Businesses that contract with or receive grants from the federal government are required to comply with the federal Drug-Free Workplace Act. As long as “marijuana” remains a federally controlled substance, these businesses must ensure their employees are drug-free to continue to contract with or receive grants from the federal government. If the Oregon employer does not comply with the federal Drug-Free Workplace Act, they cannot receive the contract or grant. However, if they terminate an employee for off-work marijuana use they would violate the proposed legislation.

Proponents of the proposed bill have stated the bill would not allow employees to use marijuana if a collective bargaining agreement prohibited it. However, a quick glance at the bill demonstrates that it does not clearly address that issue, and seems to continue to ignore the Drug-Free Workplace Act requirements altogether.

Many other states have managed to pass laws that protect employees’ off-work use of marijuana. A careful review of other state laws demonstrates that they specifically address the federal concerns. For example, Arizona’s statute protecting off-work medical marijuana use provides:

Unless a failure to do so would cause an employer to lose a monetary or licensing related benefit under federal law or regulations, an employer may not discriminate against a person in hiring, termination, or imposing any term or condition of employment…based upon…the person’s status as a card holder.”

Legislative concepts are a “draft of an idea for legislation.”  Perhaps there is still time for Senator Prozanski to draft a robust bill that addresses the concerns of businesses that rely on federal contracts and grants, and perhaps 2019 truly will become the year employee off-work use of marijuana is protected in Oregon. Stay tuned.

oregon cannabis industry

Here we are at the end of 2018, which means it’s time for the third annual “State of the State” post on Oregon cannabis (the 2017 post is here and the 2016 post is here). The year 2018 was truly remarkable in the Oregon industry, and we saw a lot of change, from regulatory evolution to industry consolidation to overall market dynamism. Below is a high-level summary of what we are seeing in the industry as we move into the new year.

Competition is intense.

The marijuana market is saturated with both licensees and product. October is always the peak month for harvest, and the Portland Business Journal, by way of OLCC, reports that producers brought in 2.54 million pounds that month (measured in wet weight). This was a slight increase from 2.48 million harvested pounds in 2017. For the full year, production was running 9% higher than 2017, and wholesale prices fell by more than 50% from mid-2017 to mid-2018. As any store owner will tell you, retail prices have fallen significantly too.

In addition to product saturation in the market, the number of licensees has continued to grow. OLCC issued an additional 300+ producer licenses in 2018, bringing the total number to 1,110. There are also 1,141 additional producers awaiting licensure. With respect to retail, there are now 606 active dispensaries in the state, including 173 of them in the City of Portland alone. Although OLCC officially “paused” its review of all new applications submitted after June 15th, we don’t see the market becoming less competitive anytime soon.

The M&A market is also intense.

There are no readily available statistics on the number of purchases and sales of marijuana businesses statewide. Anecdotally though, the amount of this activity coming through our office is remarkable. In the past 12 months, we have handled more cannabis business mergers and acquisitions than we ever could have predicted. These transactions range from people giving up failed businesses for a song, to leading local brands joining forces, to the seemingly never-ending stream of reverse mergers and acquisitions involving Canadian public companies. Although Oregon is no longer the only state to allow non-resident ownership, we don’t see a slowdown in this type of activity anytime soon. Expect Oregon to remain a buyer’s market in 2019.

The rules are pretty settled…

Oregon’s statutory changes and administrative rules didn’t change radically in 2018– at least compared to the past few years. OLCC continues to work around the edges, as with the recent push to end the alternating proprietor arrangement and to tighten up the definition on banned “added substances” in finished products. Overall, though, much of the legislative and agency efforts were centered on black market eradication and on building out the industrial hemp program. We applaud both of those efforts.

… But people keep stepping in it.

If the leading 2018 activity for our Portland marijuana business lawyers was buying and selling businesses, dealing with administrative violations was a close second. OLCC has stepped up its efforts program-wide in this manner: It begins with application scrutiny and extends through notices of violation against licensed operators. Certain violations are unfortunately common. Those include “financial interest” violations (yes, lenders must be disclosed), unapproved site changes, camera issues and manifest issues. We are seeing the same types of things, over and over, from companies large and small. Although many of these matters can be settled, they require extreme care and attention, and are best avoided through vigilant compliance.

People are suing each other.

We mentioned litigation last year, and this year is no different. Some of these disputes stem from business failure, undocumented transactions or deals gone south. We still come across the odd con job. There are also more exotic matters like RICO lawsuits and nuisance battles between marijuana and hemp farms. As long as the industry continues to evolve at its current rapid pace, we expect to see more litigation than in other commodities markets.

Hemp just keeps getting bigger.

This has been another big practice area for our office. Industrial hemp demand skyrocketed in 2018 with the CBD craze. Many Oregon farms and processors capitalized, with the number of Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) growers rapidly expanding from 233 to 568. As compared to OLCC licensing, acquiring a hemp grower’s or handler’s registration from the ODA is fast and easy, and restrictions on sale are far less cumbersome. Now that hemp is legal nationwide, we only expect this trend to continue into 2019.