Entrepreneurs, inventors, farmers, marketers, consultants, politicians and patients — more than 700 of them in all — packed the Hilton Eugene on Sunday for the first day of the third annual Oregon Medical Marijuana Business Conference. They came to network, and to learn more about Oregon’s expanding marijuana industry.
Statistics bear Rogers out. According to a January report by ArcView Market Research, the U.S. cannabis industry has grown 74 percent since 2013 and is worth $2.7 billion. That makes it the country’s fastest-growing industry. The report estimates that legal cannabis markets in the United States will grow 32 percent this year.
Gary Johnson, former two-term governor of New Mexico and now president of Cannabis Sativa Inc., was Sunday morning’s keynote speaker.
“I do believe we are going to legalize all marijuana!” Johnson told the enthusiastic crowd. He predicted that if California legalizes recreational marijuana in 2016 — following Washington, Colorado and, now, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C. — there could be a snowball effect resulting in weed being legal in the majority of states within five years.
As a result of Oregon voters’ approval of Ballot Measure 91 last fall, marijuana will be legal to grow, smoke and share in limited amounts starting July 1, but it can be sold only through medical dispensaries.
Many of the businesses represented at the conference, which concludes today, don’t sell marijuana at all, but instead were advertising their services and products to dispensaries and growers. Testing labs, real estate companies, confectionery makers, consultants, and machinery, heating, air conditioning and vaporizer manufacturers all were in attendance, to name a few.
Even the Eugene Water & Electric Board had a booth to let the “cannabis community” know that the utility is “here to help,” just like they do for “any other business community,” said Steve Mangan, an EWEB accounts manager.
Travis Ashley, 30, from Medford, is an extraction technician with High Grade Harvest, a cannabis collective dispensary based in Southern Oregon. He worked the High Grade booth, explaining its services and trading business cards.
“I’ve met a lot of people here who don’t know too much, but they are really interested,” Ashley said. He discovered High Grade while doing locksmithing and security systems for the business. He soon got a job at the firm’s dispensary in Talent and later moved up to technician.
“There are so many fields opening up, from security to labs,” he said. “There are a lot of people here who are looking for a niche.”
Anthony Johnson, chief petitioner for Ballot Measure 91 and editor of Marijuanapolitics.com, offered his own opinion in a talk on many of the unresolved questions over marijuana in Oregon. Several of those issues are expected to be taken up by the Legislature in coming weeks.
Before Measure 91’s passage, many counties and cities in Oregon passed local taxes on marijuana, despite legal language in the proposed measure indicating that only the state can levy taxes on the substance. Growers and dispensaries are wary of the taxes, which they say can make the final product expensive and send customers back to the black market for a cheaper alternative.
Johnson said he’s confident that all of the piggyback taxes will succumb to legal challenge or legislative directive.
“But I still think it’s insulting that marijuana will be the only medicine that’s taxed in the state,” he said.
Johnson said that by next year, it’s possible that new laws or initiative proposals will legalize marijuana commercially in Oregon, so that any licensed business can buy or sell, not just marijuana dispensaries.