This is part of our user's guide to legal marijuana across America.
For only being the third year of legal cannabis sales in Oregon, the industry in the state has certainly established a singular style. When walking into the average dispensary, customers are accustomed to a fully-realized experience, where decor and packaging is expected to be as polished as the diverse selections of organically-grown product, approved under some of the country's strictest regulations.
"Oregon is exceptional," says Ian Shaughnessy, CEO of Rare Industries, a multi-brand oil processor which includes Quill vape pens and OCO vape cartridges, dab syringes and THC/CBD capsules. "We've got the planet's optimal weed-growing ecoregion. Lots of states have good weed – but nothing comes close to the the flower, products, and brands here."
Both an epicenter for pioneering research and cannabis culture beyond retail shops, Oregonians seem determined to help everyone understand this plant and the potential for the legal cannabis industry to be a chance to build an industry the right way – a way that helps more people benefit from the plant's effects, helps new businesses thrive and takes this opportunity to use legal cannabis tax revenue to benefit those that were unjustly affected by the War on Drugs.
What to Smoke
When putting together regulations, Oregon lawmakers made safe product a priority. The list of permitted pesticides is shorter than in Colorado and Washington, the permissible quantities of which are significantly lower. Cannabis labs have to be accredited by the state's Department of Environmental Quality's laboratory program. Producers must test every ten pounds of every strain for potency, pesticides, microbiology, water content and residual solvents. An oil producer has to show test results for both the oil, and the flower from which the oil was drawn. An edible maker has to do the same, as well as get the final product tested on its own. That's been a costly, bottlenecked process at times, but it's given the community a sense of pride knowing they're making the safest products in the nation.
"Being a responsible cannabis producer is about providing clean, safe, consistent cannabis that is enjoyable for the end user," says Greg Levine, founder of the indoor, medical-turned-recreational farm Nelson & Co. Organics. "For the first time, people can choose what kind, how it's grown, and what's in it."
Outdoor and greenhouse-grown flower from the southern region keeps shops stocked year round with above average flower for $5 to $6 per gram, not including the 20 percent sales tax on all cannabis items. At the other end of the spectrum, $14 gets you a gram of perfectly trimmed and cured, crystallized nugs that leave a sticky layer of kief on your fingertips. At the northern crown of the West Coast's Emerald Triangle, growers that have been around far longer than recreational legalization continue to grow flower from their Bay-Area seed connections from back in the day, resulting in a robust selection of high-quality flower from heritage genetics that are increasingly difficult to find.
Where to Shop
In Oregon, there is no cap on the number of recreational dispensaries. They have to sit at least 1,000 feet from schools and other shops, but that's left room for over 545 active retailers and counting. That competitive landscape has forced shops to create their own identities; to curate environments that people want to visit and refer to their friends.
Portland is home to the state's most thoughtfully designed spots, where shops are putting as much thought into interior design as the inventory. Those hoping to make a name for themselves deeply consider how to craft an ambiance unique to their brand, and willing to pay for a million dollar buildout to make that happen.
Take Serra, known in Portland as "the Anthropologie of dispensaries," where gold-framed glass cases display flower samples in hand-painted, Serra-blue ceramic dishes. Their house edible is a collaboration with local bean-to-bar chocolatier, Woodblock, and the accessory section includes the minimalist Summerland ceramic bongs from Los Angeles. At Jeffrey's Joint, another Portland shop, locally-cured Olympia Provisions salami, San Pellegrino and Haribo gummies are available along with your cannabis merchandise.
Oregon was the also the first state to legalize cannabis delivery. From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., one can visit the website of a service like Green Box or Kush Cart, peruse a menu of flower, edibles and concentrates, and pay cash on delivery within the hour. For the degree of strictness when it comes to testing and licenses, lawmakers have accepted that people can do what they want at home – mainly because home is the only place people can legally consume cannabis products.
What to Smoke it
At first, the inability to consume cannabis was a crushing blow to potential events that would draw more tourism into the sate. Consumption-friendly outdoor cannabis festivals were banned in the name of the Clean Air Act. Oregon citizens were directed to consume cannabis, of any kind, only within the confines of a private residence. It didn't take long for the community to test the boundaries of that definition.
Lee and Sarah Henderson, the owners of Portland-area HiFi Farms, turned their home into a concert venue. Every few months, the first floor of their historical house is converted to the stage for Live at HiFi. Attendees ages 21 and up can pass a joint on the covered side porch before taking a seat on the hardwood floors of the living room for a classical music showcase or a poetry and spoken word open mic. Samantha Montanaro hosts women-only socials at her home in NE Portland, running the Tokeativity event series with the help of Lisa Snyder. The three-story house is transformed into a beehive of activities like a craft room for decorating weed jars, tarot card readings and a photo booth with the Ladies of Paradise styling team. Women of all ages dress to the party's theme, networking over CBD-infused mocktails and a joint.
Who to Know
Besides can't-miss shops to visit and events to attend, there are renowned individuals doing research in Oregon that will help everyone in the world to truly know and understand exactly what they're smoking.
Phylos Bioscience, a genetic research facility based in Portland, is the first to create a real genetic map of the cannabis plant. After developing an analysis process that only required a small sample of a plant's stem, growers from all over the world have contributed samples to the genome project. Co-founder Mowgli Holmes has a PhD from Columbia University in molecular and evolutionary biology, and with the help of VP of Data Science, Alisha Holloway – whose PhD is in molecular evolution – they built the Phylos Galaxy, an interactive map cataloguing and connecting all of the thousands of samples they've received. Pick a strain, and the galaxy zooms in to that strain, showing connections to other samples with similar genetics. For the first time ever, people can see what other strains share genetics with their favorite strains. The clusters and connections in Galaxy demonstrate how strains may have traveled across continents and where names are clearly being made up or mistaken.
In order to get this data into the public domain, Holmes co-founded the Open Cannabis Project with Jeremy Plumb, founder of science-focused Farma dispensary and fellow renowned authority on cannabis. The OCP is an open-source database that holds all of Phylos' strain analyses, and more, making it public information and thus getting into the way of corporate patent trolls. Those genetic reports serve as "prior art," or evidence that the strain existed already, so a corporation like Monsanto can't claim those strains are their intellectual property.
Where To Learn More
These cutting-edge companies would not have had the traction to get the national attention they've accrued without such an educated audience. The more an average consumer understands about the science behind cannabis, the smarter they can shop, recommend products to friends and family, and find products with the desired effects.
Not to say everyone in the state knows the difference between THC and CBD, but plenty of conservative grandmas in rural towns keep a tin of topical around for their arthritis. Zoe Sigman, Co-Director of Education at the science-focused Farma dispensary, notes that there is a trend of consumers seeking out more reliable information about cannabis.
"We've begun to change the language of how we talk about the effects of cannabis," notes Sigman. "Instead of 'indica' or 'sativa,' we talk about the different effects consuming cannabis can have, and the chemical compounds responsible. Consumers are beginning to understand the beautiful complexity of this plant."
Sigman is hosting a workshop at this year's Cultivation Classic in Portland, the first cannabis flower cup in the world to analyze terpenes (natural oils that can affect the smell and effects of different strains) and minor cannabinoids of every organic flower sample contending for the awards. The flower, already held to state standards, is also tested by a judging panel made up of dozens of local cannabis connoisseurs, chefs, brewers and sommeliers, all organized by Steph Barnhart, event director for Willamette Week. Attendees at this year's Cultivation Classic 2018 on May 12th can witness the awards ceremony as well as listen to industry leaders speak on the cannabis economy, engage with vendors and network for a ticket price of $40.
The Scientific Cult Classic, as it's known in the state, is a far cry from the stoner party experiences associated with the High Times Cannabis Cup or college 4/20 parties. That care for science and education is what most distinguishes Oregon's industry.
"Pioneers in the Oregon cannabis community have established a culture that is based on substantiating the science behind cannabis, and, increasingly, protecting communities that have historically suffered," says Sigman. "Portland recently announced that $350,000 of cannabis sales tax revenue is earmarked for programs to wipe the records of people previously arrested for possession and provide job training for them. Cannabis can be a tool for positive social change. Oregon is holding fast to the hope that it will do just that."