OR: Medical Marijuana Business Thriving

Photo Credit: Journal News

It’s been about six months since the Rocky Mountain Dispensary opened just west of John Day and began offering medical marijuana products to state-certified customers.

The dispensary has about 85 to 95 regular customers, all referred by a doctor, store manager Haley Olson said. Medical marijuana is regulated by the Oregon Health Authority. Olson said about 75 percent of her customers are over 50 years old.

“It’s a growing business in Grant County, with new patients still getting state cards,” she said.

Family business

Rocky Mountain Dispensary is a family business, with Olson, her mother and father and her uncle and cousins being the only employees. The dispensary belongs to the National Cannabis Industry Association, and Olson was invited to speak to the association in Denver in February about prohibition and discrimination in Grant County. She said she’s been interviewed several times by High Times magazine, which has become the industry’s trade journal.

“In the past, the industry got a bad record because some people were not professional,” Olson said. “This created a stoner stereotype.”

A security system at the dispensary cost $27,000, Olson said. There have been no incidents since the business opened, and the store has been toured by the Grant County Sheriff’s Office and the John Day Police Department, she said. Some security requirements are required under state law: A 5-foot-tall safe, for example, stores product at night when everyone is gone.

“State law requires it weigh at least 750 pounds or be bolted to the floor,” Olson said.

The Oregon Health Authority conducted a random inspection at the dispensary in December. An agent walked through the premises and inspected inventory and the store’s 90-day security video backup to ensure the business was checking customer IDs.

All products sold at the dispensary are inspected by a lab in Portland and tracked by bar code, Olson said. Products are tested for THC content, mold and numerous pesticide chemicals. The tests cost about $400 per strain per harvest, she said.

“We can’t accept any product that hasn’t been tested,” Olson said.

She recommends that people buy marijuana from a certified dispensary.

“You don’t know if your buddy used chemicals to grow his pot,” she said.

Marijuana farming

The family also operates Rocky Mountain Farms in John Day, which grows marijuana both outdoors and indoors using hydroponics. The latter requires adding nutrients to the water, but they only use only food-grade nutrients, Olson said.

The John Day store mostly sells marijuana grown by 15 farmers in the county, not their own, Olson said.

“We want to help the local growers by buying their product,” she said.

State law prohibits growing or processing medical marijuana in a dispensary building. Processed products sold in the store are made by other vendors, but the family plans to start a processing facility in Grant County this spring to make extracts, vape cartridges, tinctures and oils using locally grown marijuana, Olson said. The plan is to sell the products in the John Day dispensary or to other dispensaries.

About 10 to 15 of their regular patients are suffering from glaucoma, Olson said. Medical marijuana will not cure glaucoma but can relieve pressure on the eye. Other patients have blood pressure issues, she said.

Many patients don’t smoke but use lotions for arthritis or purchase topical and edible tinctures, candy and drinks. Medical marijuana products contain THC, which has psychoactive properties, and cannabidiol, which has topical effects but “won’t get you stoned,” Olson said.

Many of the dispensary’s patients are on pain killers, including opioids, which are blamed for a deadly epidemic across the nation. Olson noted that seven patients who come to her store have stopped using opioids and switched to medical marijuana.

Recreational marijuana

Most opioid addicts don’t have a medical condition that would qualify them for a state medical marijuana card, Olson said. But these people could benefit from using recreational marijuana, she noted.

Olson is helping organize a petition to overturn the ban in Grant County of sales, distribution, processing and growing marijuana for recreational purposes. A petition in May 2016 lost 1,689 to 1,469.

The Rocky Mountain Dispensary pays no tax to the county, but recreational marijuana sales would provide a tax revenue to the county, she said. Grant County will no longer receive a share of the statewide tax revenue from recreational marijuana sales because recreational sales are prohibited here.

“This is about helping the local economy and trying to make up for the lost timber industry,” Olson said.

The county could use this new tax revenue for a multitude of purposes, she said. Legalizing recreational marijuana would also help the economy — cannabis industry jobs start at $15 per hour, she said.

“A person with a commercial kitchen could make marijuana baked goods and sell them to us and make a great amount of money,” Olson said.

The recreational marijuana industry is regulated by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. Olson noted that Grant County consumers currently travel outside the county to purchase recreational marijuana. In Sumpter, they pay 20 percent in state and local taxes, she said.

Olson also noted that if the petition passed, recreational marijuana use locally wouldn’t change much. People over 21 can legally possess and consume marijuana and grow up to four plants per residence under state law, even though the county has banned commercial growing and sales.

Olson said it can also be obtained illegally.

“Grant County has a thriving black market for cannabis,” she said.