In­vestors anx­ious as Ore­go­ni­ans again vote on mar­i­juana

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - By An­drew Sel­sky The As­so­ci­ated Press

Last year, Golden Leaf Hold­ings, a lead­ing cannabis com­pany, paid $3.3 mil­lion for al­most 100 acres of land in Ore­gon to build a mar­i­juana grow­ing, pro­cess­ing and re­search site.

The fu­ture looked bright: Ore­gon vot­ers had le­gal­ized recre­ational mar­i­juana in 2014. But Mea­sure 91 gave coun­ties and towns the op­por­tu­nity to opt out and ban pot busi­nesses.

Days af­ter Golden Leaf signed the pa­pers on the prop­erty in Mar­ion County near the town of Aurora, the county banned mar­i­juana busi­nesses in un­in­cor­po­rated ar­eas. So did about 100 other towns and coun­ties.

“That shut us out com­pletely out of the recre­ational mar­ket, which was our orig­i­nal strat­egy,” said Beau Whit­ney, a Golden Leaf vice pres­i­dent.

Now, Golden Leaf has an­other chance. Mar­ion County is one of about 50 Ore­gon towns and coun­ties that will de­cide in the Nov. 8 elec­tion whether to opt back into the mar­i­juana busi­ness, ac­cord­ing to the Ore­gon Liquor Con­trol Com­mis­sion, which reg­u­lates and li­censes the in­dus­try.

Other states across Amer­ica are also grap­pling with the is­sue of how to deal with the emerg­ing mar­i­juana busi­ness. Recre­ational or med­i­cal mar­i­juana mea­sures are on bal­lots in Ari­zona, Arkansas, Cal­i­for­nia, Florida, Maine, Mas­sachusetts, Mon­tana, Ne­vada and North Dakota.

At Golden Leaf’s prop­erty, in the Wil­lamette Val­ley be­tween Port­land and Salem, valu­able ma­chines to process mar­i­juana into po­tent oils are mostly idle, used only for med­i­cal mar­i­juana. One green­house was filled with rows of ro­bust pot plants, but about 20 other green­houses stood empty un­der rainy skies on a re­cent af­ter­noon.

Whit­ney said Mar­ion County will lose $7.5 mil­lion in em­ploy­ees’ wages per year and in com­pany spend­ing for in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment if vot­ers say no to mar­i­juana, forc­ing Golden Leaf to move else­where.

“We just want a level play­ing field,” Whit­ney said. “We’re just

look­ing for rea­son­able reg­u­la­tion.”

Mar­ion County Com­mis­sioner Sam Brentano said he doesn’t want the county over­run by pot busi­nesses at­tracted by its rich soil and high­way ac­cess, and that he has re­ceived com­plaints about odor, noise and lights.

One re­cent evening, 16 back­ers of pro-pot bal­lot mea­sures gath­ered in an an­te­room of a med­i­cal mar­i­juana store. Some vol­un­teered to staff a phone bank. Oth­ers said they would hand out fly­ers to boost voter aware­ness of the bal­lot mea­sures.

“This is re­ally the Wild West now,” Genevieve Sheridan, an in­sur­ance agent rep­re­sent­ing cannabis busi­nesses, told those gath­ered at West Salem Cannabis.

A color-coded map pub­lished by the As­so­ci­a­tion of Ore­gon Coun­ties shows how the dif­fer­ing pot poli­cies have cre­ated a patch­work. Ore­gon’s more con­ser­va­tive east­ern coun­ties are red, mean­ing they banned recre­ational mar­i­juana busi­nesses; coun­ties es­tab­lish­ing reg­u­la­tions for li­censed mar­i­juana busi­nesses are green; those that have a pot vote pend­ing are orange or vi­o­let; and oth­ers that haven’t taken any ac­tion are blue. Across the state, peo­ple are al­lowed to grow up to four plants, pos­sess up to 8 ounces of mar­i­juana in their homes and carry up to 1 ounce.

The land­scape is likely to change with this elec­tion.

Steven Marks, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Ore­gon Liquor Con­trol Com­mis­sion, told The As­so­ci­ated Press that “we will have more li­cens­ing and a bub­ble of ac­tiv­ity com­ing . ... We’ll see how many pass.”

Some lo­cal gov­ern­ments, while per­haps op­posed to the cannabis in­dus­try, want a greater share of the money if vot­ers say yes to pot. Mar­ion County is one of many ju­ris­dic­tions that are ask­ing vot­ers to im­pose a 3 per­cent lo­cal sales tax on mar­i­juana, on top of the 17 per­cent state tax.

One re­cent morn­ing, James Knox, pres­i­dent of Sa­vant Plant Tech­nolo­gies, helped a friend har­vest mar­i­juana in a green­house in ru­ral Ben­ton County.

Reg­gae mu­sic played as a half-dozen har­vesters wear­ing sur­gi­cal gloves pulled branches from the plants, stripped the leaves and tossed them into buck­ets, leav­ing be­hind sticky buds. The buds were dropped into an­other bucket and then taken out­side and run through a trim­ming ma­chine.

“It seems like the pub­lic has spo­ken, two years ago,” Knox said over the whir of cool­ing fans. “Now we’re vot­ing about it again. I re­ally think the coun­ties, the cities, the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties need to re­spect the vot­ers.”

Sa­vant sells grow­ing ma­te­ri­als for cannabis pro­duc­ers. Af­ter Linn County, just a few miles from the green­house, im­posed a mora­to­rium on pot busi­nesses, the six big­gest cus­tomers of Knox’s flag­ship store moved away, cost­ing him 40 per­cent of gross an­nual rev­enue. They didn’t stick around to see if county res­i­dents will vote to al­low re­tail mar­i­juana pro­duc­tion and sales.

“They lit­er­ally van­ished within a three-month time pe­riod,” Knox said. “The com­merce they cre­ated, the jobs, it’s all gone. They’re spend­ing their money some­where else.”

“It seems like the pub­lic has spo­ken, two years ago. Now we’re vot­ing about it again. I re­ally think the coun­ties, the cities, the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties need to re­spect the vot­ers.” — James Knox, pres­i­dent of Sa­vant Plant Tech­nolo­gies

AN­DREW SEL­SKY — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

James Knox, pres­i­dent of Sa­vant Plant Tech­nolo­gies that sells sup­plies to grow­ers stands near mar­i­juana plants in Cor­val­lis, Ore.. Knox says that when an ad­ja­cent county put a mora­to­rium on pot busi­nesses, six of his top cus­tomers who were mar­i­juana grow­ers left, caus­ing a 40-per­cent drop in his com­pany’s gross rev­enue.

AN­DREW SEL­SKY — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Signs at a mar­i­juana dis­pen­sary in Salem, Ore. urge vot­ers to ap­prove mar­i­juana busi­nesses in un­in­cor­po­rated ar­eas of Mar­ion County. Some 50 coun­ties and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in Ore­gon have mar­i­juana mea­sures on the bal­lot for the elec­tions, two years af­ter Ore­go­ni­ans passed a recre­ational mar­i­juana bal­lot mea­sure, but leav­ing lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties the abil­ity to opt out.

AN­DREW SEL­SKY — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Beau Whit­ney, a vice pres­i­dent of Golden Leaf, a cannabis com­pany, dis­cusses on the com­pany’s 97-acre prop­erty near Aurora, Ore., on how a county ban on recre­ational mar­i­juana has harmed the com­pany’s busi­ness. Whit­ney stands in a green­house with mar­i­juana grown for med­i­cal pa­tients.

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