AMY MARGOLIS has been saving stoners from the long arm of the law for more than a decade. She and the other attorneys at Portland-based Emerge Law Group represent clients from all branches of the cannabis industry; Margolis specializes in helping entrepreneurs navigate the pitfalls of entering Oregon's fledgling legal cannabis industry. Margolis is a lobbyist who founded the Oregon Grower's Political Action Committee and the Oregon Growers Association. (Full disclosure: She has also supplied legal advice about cannabis for the Mercury.)
Margolis answered some questions recently about where the recreational weed industry in Oregon is currently, and where it's headed in the months leading up to legalization on July 1.
MERCURY: What are some of the hurdles potential entrepreneurs face when tackling the task of bringing a black market product into a legal market?
AMY MARGOLIS: The biggest hurdle is psychological. It's a big transition from the gray market to putting yourself, your farm, and your business out in public view. For many people who have participated in the industry for a long time, they have spent most of their time trying to stay out of public view. Now we are telling people that they should incorporate, get websites, and build a brand. That is a real cognitive switch for many folks.
The next biggest hurdle is that we know very little about what any of this will look like from a regulatory perspective. It is very hard to engage in any meaningful business planning when there is no administrative guidance. We know that's coming, but it's hard to be patient.
Colorado is seeing a lot of its recreational cannabis business in the form of edibles. Will the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) be the regulating authority for edibles in Oregon? Is there a framework being set up to regulate dosages in edibles?
As best we know, the OLCC will be regulating edibles. That does not mean they won't draw on the institutional expertise of other agencies that know how to regulate food production. In Colorado, edibles are 40 percent of the market share and I have no reason to think it won't be similar here. That being said, the regulation of edibles might be considered tricky for administrators, and things are being changed and improved in other recreational markets.
With traditional banks refusing to do business with cannabis entrepreneurs, how are new companies getting funding? Are private investment firms backing new businesses? How, if at all, would those investments be insured?
Money is coming in from all sorts of places. Some people have managed to save money and are funding their own projects. We are seeing lots of "friends and family" funding as well. There are definitely people with the ability to throw big money around showing up in Oregon. While some of those big money people are starting their own businesses, a lot of them are finding local partners to invest in. Lunchbox Alchemy coined a term we use frequently—"when the grows meet the pros"—and it seems pretty spot-on.
What needs to happen for federal decriminalization to happen, and is it even a possibility?
It's hard to say when this will happen. Or even what will be the final straw for prohibition. We know that legalization polls really well and that eventually enough states will fall that it will be a federal inevitability. But whether that happens quickly might just be dependent on who is the next president and what is the makeup of Congress.
What legislation, if any, currently being considered by the Oregon House/Senate do you feel is a slam-dunk?
Hmm. Slam-dunks: There's likely no such thing. But, if I were betting I would say the research bill [Senate Bill 480], introduced by [Senator Chris] Edwards [D-Eugene], has a real chance of moving. This is a great bill and would allow for true medical research to be done in Oregon. Initially it creates a fast-moving task force who will be directed to make recommendations as soon as 2016. Allowing medical research will be a benefit to patients, to the industry, and to the state. Imagine if Oregon could be a leader in medical marijuana research and advancement!
At the federal level, are there any laws or drafts of laws circulating that would guarantee safety from federal prosecution?
The best direction I can give on this issue is that we are all relying on the Cole Memo. This is a policy statement that says the feds will not make prosecution a priority if you are in compliance with your state cannabis laws. It does say that the federal government continues to have an interest in prosecuting those who are engaging in one of eight types of conduct, including association with gangs or cartels, dealing to minors, and interstate trafficking. But this is just a policy statement and could be changed at any time.
What are some of the gray areas that still need to be worked out?
Everything? We know there will be four types of licenses. We know that OLCC will make rules. That might be all we know. Until the end of session and the end of rule making, there are still a lot of questions. And, even then, depending on how much local governments are allowed to do, there might be a patchwork of regulation to process and understand. Welcome to legalization!