Marijuana business regulations still raise questions
The marijuana industry is growing rapidly, and Oregon is having a hard time keeping up, leaving many questions and concerns for local businesses and leaders.
"This industry is still growing, still learning, and we are working out the kinks," Trista Okel, founder/CEO of Empower Oil said.
Okel was one of three speakers at a Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce-sponsored event on Tuesday, who addressed the legalization of marijuana and how it affects business, industry and the community in general. Business leaders and representatives from nonprofit businesses and utility companies gathered at the luncheon, held at Persimmon Country Club in Gresham, to listen and learn.
Okel makes cannabis-infused topical products that are non-psychoactive — in other words, don't produce intoxication — that are used to reduce pain, inflammation and skin trauma.
She started working with this product in her kitchen when her mother was struggling with arthritis and a broken back. In order to lower her mother's opiate use, she combined different essential oils with the same therapeutic benefits to cover the cannabis smell and help with these conditions. After creating a business out of this initial interest, she ran into a problem with banks.
As the U.S. government still considers marijuana illegal, federally-regulated banks cannot accept marijuana money, so finding a financial institution that will do business with cannabis retailers is a struggle. The financial institutions that try to accommodate the retailers find it involves a lot of work and is a high-risk business.
"I hate to have my salespeople driving around town with $3,000 in their bag before they make a drop," Okel said. "It's dangerous and to me, it's the biggest public safety issue we have as far as the cannabis industry goes."
Because the industry is in its infancy, there are many things "about a new industry that we don't know," said Lynn Snodgrass, CEO of the Gresham chamber. "Businesses need to stay on top so we are intelligent in our decision-making as business or member owners."
Amanda Borup, a policy analyst with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission's recreational marijuana program, and Gresham Police Capt. Claudio Grandjean brought up new and similar insights.
Borup, responsible for the oversight of cannabis, began the presentation by addressing recreational pot regulations and testing procedures on cannabis products.
Prior to the legalization of marijuana, there was not a lot of pesticide testing on the medical product. With recreational marijuana on the market, all products that go through the supply chain are being tested for about 70 pesticides, several solvents and water potency, Borup noted.
Okel added that while the United States has some of the strictest testing requirements, there are still some pesticides found in testing, possibly because of lab cleanliness.
Another difference in the recreational program from the prior medical program is a new cannabis tracking system. It monitors the plant throughout its lifecycle to know how the product moves through the supply chain.
"It's very nice from a regulatory point of view because we get to see what kind of transfers are happening, where a transfer is," Borup said. "It gives us data we didn't have before, and that data will get better as time progresses."
The OLCC has regulatory authority over the recreational marijuana program. They license producers, wholesalers, retailers and worker permits. Currently, the city of Gresham has seven licensees, including four retailers, two wholesalers and one producer, compared to more than 1,200 licensees statewide.
Snodgrass noted there are fields right outside of Gresham being rented to growers.
"This is prime soil and climate for that kind of product. It's here because we have the land, so it will be even more of an adventure," Snodgrass said.
This is the third or fourth cannabis-related presentation in the last two years, she added, because as this industry evolves, "we want to make sure we are proactive and not reactive."
Grandjean spoke about enforcement concerns surrounding driving under the influence of marijuana. Grandjean said there is no legal standard for impairment with marijuana, which is "still getting worked out."
With the statewide decriminalization of marijuana, Grandjean said police mainly get involved when it becomes a livability issue, noting nuances between recreational and medical grow ordinances in neighborhoods.
Grandjean said community members often ask about marijuana DUIIs. Statistics showed a spike in 2016 when it was legal, but pot-related driving offenses slightly decreased this year, he said.
"I don't know if we have enough data to say if we have an upward trend or not," Grandjean said. "One thing I can say is it's a different skill to detect drivers under the influence of marijuana that most of our patrol officers aren't really adept at."
Right now, he said the police department only has three drug-recognition experts who look at physical signs.
"It's difficult to prove right now," Grandjean said. "There is no legal standard for impairment with marijuana so that's still being worked out."
Borup hopes in 10 years marijuana will be a successfully regulated industry and be considered as a regular business in society.
Okel and Grandjean agree, and both envision marijuana being legal nationwide in 10 years.
"I wouldn't be surprised," Grandjean said.