Oregon Pot Businesses Struggle To Stay Afloat Amid Surplus

Photo Credit: Ted S. Warren

Friday was April 20, a day celebrated by many recreational marijuana users.

But this year, the celebration was overshadowed by a challenge facing a growing number of recreational marijuana dispensaries—a surplus of Oregon-grown cannabis, and a reduction of its retail value.

For customers like Daniel Pollard, the surplus is a win.

“There’s a lot to choose from here,” said Pollard, looking through the window case of La Cannaisseur in Northwest Portland. “Sometimes I’m like, I can’t buy it, it’s too expensive, but now-a-days it’s really affordable.”

From behind the counter, a bud tender points out one example.

“That one was as high as $12.00 a gram and now it’s down to about $5.00 at the moment,” he said.

“It’s fantastic for the public,” said La Cannaisseur owner Aleeya Kim, trying to stay positive. Kim said the industry-wide cannabis price drop was a direct result of the state’s massive weed surplus.

According to state records, Oregon farmers grew three times more cannabis than customers bought last year, as first reported by Willamette Week.

“Farmers are hardest hit now,” said Kim. “They’re not able to cover their overhead.”

Kim said her store’s survival is rooted in the bud they grow themselves, high standards and customer service. She’s also focused on selling a higher volume of bud at lower prices to stay on par with last year’s profits. Despite those efforts, she said the surplus is still impacting her business.

“I’ve had to cut some employees,” said Kim. “We’re all struggling. I would say there isn’t anybody out here who’s not struggling to get through this time.”

Willamette Week reporters Katie Shepherd and Matt Stangel dug into Oregon’s pot surplus and interviewed more than two dozen people across the industry.

“Every single person I talked to said that if Oregon could sell some of its cannabis to other states, then there would be no over supply problem,” said Shepherd, acknowledging the prohibition of exporting marijuana, still a federally scheduled drug.

Shepherd uncovered a trend of wealthy out-of-state investors buying up smaller Oregon pot shops that couldn’t withstand the surplus-induced price dip.

“I didn’t really expect to see some of the people who’d been in the industry basically since the beginning, closing up shop,” said Shepherd. “I think that probably surprised me the most out of everything I reported.”

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has said it has no power to limit how many legally licensed marijuana grows and dispensaries pop up in Oregon. Right now, there are nearly 1,000 licensed grows in the state, with almost as many waiting for approval. Those numbers indicate Oregon’s marijuana surplus may only grow.

“I think it’s something we’re all going to have to ride out,” said Kim.