Industry Group Forming Around Central Oregon Cannabis

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An association of Central Oregon cannabis businesses is forming, a group its organizers expect will also include businesses that serve that sector.

The association will resemble the local industry clusters organized around food products, technology and outdoor gear, but with an added emphasis on lifting the stigma attached to marijuana, according to the group behind the project. Attorney Jennifer Clifton, of Clifton Cannabis Law, said she expected to file the paperwork as early as next week to create a nonprofit organization.

“I’m so excited,” Clifton said Friday. “I’m excited to be working with such exceptional people. We’ll be focusing and putting a spotlight on the positive impact that cannabis is having on Central Oregon.”

Clifton, accountant Chris Telfer, Judy Campbell of Campbell Consulting and two Bend-based marijuana business co-owners, Hunter Neubauer of Oregrown and Gary Bracelin of Tokyo Starfish, met Thursday to get started, Clifton said.

“The idea is to be like a public-relations campaign that changes the face of cannabis,” she said. “People do perceive it as the barbed wire fences with the signs and the pit bulls, and that’s not what legal cannabis looks like.”

Neubauer, whose company operates an indoor farm near Tumalo, has served on advisory committees that helped craft marijuana regulations at the state and county levels, and has appeared as a legal cannabis advocate in public forums from Bend to Salem.

The group should include not just marijuana business owners, he said, but “people that have seen the economic benefit of the legalization of cannabis — accountants, lawyers, builders, plumbers, electricians. That’s the reality of legalized cannabis. It touches many more than most realize.”

The organization will not be a political action committee but may take positions on issues affecting marijuana, Clifton said.

“PACs are really expensive,” she said. “It’s a lot of money to set up a PAC and mobilize that way.”

The impetus to create a Central Oregon industry group around marijuana comes as local and federal authorities rethink their positions on legal marijuana. Deschutes County, where neighbors’ opposition to new indoor marijuana farms is almost a given, is reviewing its land use regulations around cannabis. Opponents don’t consider them strict enough, while advocates say they’re the strictest in the state.

The U.S. Attorney General in January rolled back guidelines that allowed federal law enforcement to tolerate marijuana in states where it’s legal. On Feb. 2, the U.S. Attorney for Oregon, Billy Williams, convened a summit meeting of law enforcement officials, cannabis advocates and opponents to address, among other topics, the black market for marijuana in Oregon.

The time was right for cannabis advocates to craft their own message, Campbell said. “The cannabis industry in Central Oregon is having a huge, positive effect on the local economy, on tourism and more,” she said Friday, “and it seems that often gets overlooked.”

An industry group has a ready-made constituency in Central Oregon. Seventy marijuana business licenses have been issued in Deschutes County. That includes 22 retail shops — 20 in Bend and two in La Pine — and 21 growers. Another 144 license applications from the county are pending with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, about half from growers.

Telfer, a former state senator from Bend who provides accounting services to clients in the marijuana business, said her interest stems from the obstacles she sees facing those clients and the ancillary businesses that provide them services. The inability to open a bank account or to claim business expenses as tax deductions are two examples, she said.

“Today’s (cannabis) culture is totally different from the culture in the ’70s,” said Telfer, a college student in that decade. “It’s much more business oriented; it has more business experience and more venture capital coming into it and more skill in managing it.”