Story and photos by Helen Caswell
Amy Margolis began representing clients charged with marijuana crimes almost 15 years ago. In 2011 those clients, she says, “saw the direction this industry, and the cannabis legalization movement, was heading, and wanted to start legal and compliant businesses. At that time… a criminal lawyer was the perfect person to help keep them safe.”
After House Bill 3460 passed, allowing for licensed dispensaries, Margolis wanted a business lawyer’s help. She found Dave Kopilak, a partner at Emerge, who himself was seeking a compliance lawyer. “We started sharing all of our clients and providing true, traditional business service,” she says. Emerge has since grown to 10 lawyers practicing in business, securities, land use, real estate, tax, litigation and criminal law serving the cannabis industry.
Five of the lawyers at Emerge are female. “I like to think women don’t need a special place but can carry their own in any situation,” Margolis says. “I have been proud to watch the women at my firm boldly navigate this new industry and be trailblazers.”
In addition to her legal work, Margolis serves on the Rule Committee for the Oregon Health Authority’s Dispensary Program and has been instrumental in forming the Oregon Cannabis Growers PAC and the Oregon Growers Association.
She says, “We were, and are, focused on how to create a sensibly regulated market so businesses can be successful while not forgetting the social justice piece.”
Margolis saw tensions at the legislature last session and calls them the growing pains of “building a brand new industry.” She expects a smoother path ahead. Her priorities for next session are “co-location and reducing the impact of the residency requirement which disproportionately impacts women and minorities trying to access funding.”
Crystal Young is on hand six days a week, 10-hours a day at Cannamedicine Salem in South Salem. She is responsible for all regulation compliance and making the place run smoothly. She loves the work, and the dispensary is filled with customers who are drawn to her positive energy, vast knowledge and upbeat manner.
Like many who work in the industry, Young came by way of being a patient herself. She was a passenger in a rollover accident that trapped her in crushed metal so pressing that the “Jaws of Life” was called.
“There was glass everywhere; in my feet, in my legs in my hands, in my knees,” she says. The damage was not just severe trauma to her body and PTSD, but her hip was pushed into her spine, giving irreparable nerve damage to her muscles. “It meant lifelong damage and pain,” she says.
Doctors told her all she could do was treat it with a myriad of pharmaceuticals, morphine and Fentanyl. “They had me on Percoset and Naproxen,” she says. “I was taking 27 pills a day.” With three daughters and a stepdaughter, Young knew she couldn’t function effectively.
People with severe pain in the United States are required to sign an agreement saying they will not use a homeopathic like cannabis at the same time as dangerous and addictive pharmaceuticals. “It means,” Young says, “that every person who is trying to use an herb has to chose between a life of pain or a pharmaceutical that destroys the liver kidneys and other internal organs – and also diminishes your quality of life.”
After detoxing off pharmaceuticals because she was too sick to refill her prescriptions, Young has never looked back. “The side effects of cannabis are so much better than with pharmaceuticals. The quality of my life is immensely better.”
The taxes that were imposed on Oregon sales on January 4 don’t bother Young, because she is certain that the products sold at licensed dispensaries are higher quality than anything on the street. She likes the idea that taxes “give back” to the rest of Oregon, too. “The point of taxes is that it gives back to the community,” she says. “We want better schools, we want better roads. It’s important for people to understand that the stigma is invalid. I love being here at this historical point in time.”
Grower, lobbyist, owner of Alternative Relief Clinic and West Salem Cannabis and UFCW cannabis organizer
“Oregon is very well-positioned to be a major exporter of cannabis if we play our cards right,” says the tireless Margo Lucas. “That’s what’s so exciting, because there are a lot of good people without good jobs in this state.”
Lucas’s journey began seven years ago when she began growing medicinal medical marijuana as Cowgirl Cannabis in Independence. Her goal at the time was to provide safe medicine for her husband and an injured patient who was a friend.
“It’s been quite a ride,” she reflects, of all the changes since then. “Early on, we didn’t know what was going to happen, we didn’t know if we’d be shut down or arrested.”
After the passage of the medical dispensary law, Lucas opened a medical marijuana clinic in Independence in fall 2014, and another one in southern Oregon in spring 2015. 2014 also saw her approaching the City of Salem on an outreach mission, taking the police chief, police deputy and a representative from the mayor’s office on a tour of her dispensary. “I just approached people,” she says. “I told them, ‘I know you must have questions and concerns, and I would like to help with that.’” She was appointed to the mayor’s medical marijuana committee for several months that year.
2015 was busy as well. Lucas lobbied state legislators on marijuana issues such as the early sales program; she was hired by the UFCW to become a cannabis organizer and she opened her West Salem Dispensary. She already has a list of goals for 2016, including lobbying the legislature to allow smoking in cannabis clubs.
She is an advocate for her gender, especially hoping women will grow the product. “I’d like to encourage all women to get involved if they’re interested, and start their own business,” she says. “It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s a very exciting entrepreneurial time.”
Rep. Ann Lininger, D
Representative Ann Lininger was excited to co-chair, with Senator Ginny Burdick (D- Portland), the committee tasked with considering the multitudinous details needed to implement Measure 91 in 2015. The committee’s work led to a successful rollout of recreational product in October and rules for issues as diverse as testing, packaging, tracking, education and taxing.
“Cannabis legalization presents a big opportunity for Oregon,” Lininger says, “and I want to help local businesses pursue it in a way that is reasonable and responsible.”
Lininger grew up in the Rogue Valley, where her family ran a rock mining and construction business that was hit hard by the recession of the early 1980s. “I know how difficult changes in our natural resource economy have been for some Oregon families,” she says. “We need a diverse economic base in our state, and legal cannabis presents an additional way for people to earn a living from the land.”
Lininger cites an ArcView Market Research report saying the legal cannabis market grew 74% in 2014 – from $1.4 billion to $2.7 billion.
“When cannabis legalization goes nationwide,” she says, “the annual market value is expected to be around $36 billion. That’s several billion more than the organic food market.”
There will need to be adjustments. As Oregon’s legal cannabis sector joins the mainstream economy, Lininger says businesses will need to comply with rules regarding tax payment, employment law, product tracking and testing.
“There are lots of people rooting for Oregon’s legal cannabis sector, including me,” she says, “and if we can help emerging businesses comply with the law, we can broaden and deepen support for the sector… I would like to see Oregon’s cannabis producers join our beer and wine makers in a next wave of successful Oregon businesses.”
“There are many opportunities in this industry for women from all skill sets and backgrounds,” says Rowshan Reordan, an Oregon leader in cannalysis, the process of screening marijuana for potency, profile and safety. “I have met and continue to meet many amazing women… This industry allows one to dream, and turn that dream into reality, regardless of one’s gender.”
Reordan first got into the business because a terminally ill friend consumed faulty medicinal cannabis that compromised his sensitive immune system. She realized then “that science and the evidence produced from science needed to be incorporated in the cannabis industry for the protection of consumers,” she says, “as well as legitimizing the industry.”
It inspired her to open a cannabis testing laboratory, one of the first in the nation, in 2011, “at a time when cannabis was still socially unaccepted and not as transparent.”
She has seen a tremendous change since then. From one Oregon cannabis event held yearly, “Now, there are cannabis events, conferences and tradeshows practically every weekend. Those who were nervous to publicly talk about their skills as growers or processors now have branded businesses with logos and swag.”
The future looks even brighter. “This is going to become a multi-million dollar industry in Oregon,” she says. Calling this industry “perfect for rural Oregon,” Reordan hopes opportunities there will expand.
“The State of Oregon has allowed local jurisdictions to opt-out from participating in this industry. Many of these jurisdictions are located in rural Oregon. By default, this is focusing these new economic opportunities in areas that already have options for economic growth.”
The cannabis industry will not be a true Oregon industry, Reordan believes, if it is only centered in large metropolitan areas.
“The female cannabis plant is what this is all about, so it seems natural that women would be a force to be reckoned with in the future of cannabis,” says Bonnie King, who created the “Cannabis De-Classified” section of Salem-news.com, an online news source, in 2007.
“Women are the best business managers in the workforce, and it’s for the same reasons they are rising to the forefront in the cannabis industry: common sense and tolerance, mixed with zesty determination and a strong commitment.”
Like many young people raised in Oregon in the 70’s, cannabis was a part of King’s universe early on. “We lived in the country where hippies were nonchalant about cannabis use,” she says, “and it never seemed to do any harm. By the time I was in college, my interest in the truth behind prohibition was ignited. I bought Jack Herer’s “Emperor Wears No Clothes,” brainstormed with friends about the fantasy of ending prohibition, and shared petitions with colleagues. We never really believed marijuana would be legal to use, but we knew it was worth trying.”
King is convinced that cannabis users remain oppressed. Though Oregon is widely accepting of marijuana, she points out, “our state has arrested and incarcerated hundreds of thousands of people over the years, regardless of changes in laws. Over 600,000 people were arrested for “marijuana offenses” in the U.S. in 2015. That’s not acceptable. These people have been humiliated, even shunned; they’ve lost their jobs, their businesses, their families.”
As Oregon moves forward, King especially hopes that medical card holders will retain their rights and that banking reform can occur soon. “A cash-only industry that deals in thousands of dollars a day is ridiculous, and it’s gone on far too long.”
Coral Cronin’s route to becoming a wholesale distributor for Wild West Growers, Boom! Extrax and Baker Brother Edibles began years ago, when she went to school to study horticulture. She went on in 1998 to help the effort to legalize medicinal marijuana in Oregon, Washington and Colorado. Since then, she has both worked in a greenhouse that did cloning and in a lab where she prepared samples for testing.
A patient herself, Cronin suffers from a chronic auto immune dysfunctional disease. She came to cannabis, she says, “because I was desperate for a solution and to get off steroids.”
Now, as sales account manager who services businesses all over the Willamette Valley, Cronin is on the road several days a week, “loving the flexibility of this job, visiting dispenseries and showing them our beautiful clones.”
She says workers in cannabis are unusually close. “We’ve all became friends fast because people have fought hard to get where they are. When I lived in Beaverton, every dispensary fought tooth and nail to open, to get licensed, to get a parking lot. Whether or not you are political, you become political because there is so much against you.”
Wild West is a grower’s collective that also manufactures extracts and edibles. “They are all one small company based in Eugene, but the clones are our focus because we have a facility that is specifically perfected for them. We know that the most important first step is to get clones into people’s hands.”
Of the cannabis industry in Oregon, Cronin says “we are all creating it. I want to work in a pioneering industry. It makes me part of something bigger that is really impacting people’s lives in a positive way.”
Consultant, activist, writer for Dope Magazine, compliance specialist and legislative representative for Sirius Extracts
Lindsay Rinehart began her involvement in the industry as an activist who served three and a half years as the Chief Petitioner and Director of Compassionate Idaho, in an effort to get medicinal cannabis legalized in that state.
A MS patient, she moved to Oregon two years ago in order to have safe access to cannabis. “I began my activism in Oregon immediately,” she says. Now she works as a writer for Dope Magazine and is the Legislative Representative and Compliance Specialist for Sirius Extracts,“ a firm that produces medicinal marijuana concentrate.
Of her route to Dope Magazine, she says, “I had been writing about the cannabis industry for a couple of years. I learned that DOPE is an acronym for Defending Our Plant Everywhere and loved it! I supplied my writing portfolio to the state director and I was hired.”
Because she had already worked diligently to learn Oregon’s cannabis laws and earned hands-on experience at dispensaries, Rinehart felt that working with Sirius was “a natural fit” for both, “because the company truly cares about our industry and seeks to help it thrive.”
Rinehart sees a great future for cannabis. “Cannabis has been one of Oregon’s leading cash crops for decades,” she says. “By legitimizing the industry our state has given the economy a robust industry that is eager to show how beneficial cannabis and our industry can be for the economy.”
“I see tremendous opportunity for women in the industry,” says Melissa Joye, who manages TLC in South Salem. “Women are already actively involved as growers, PRFs, dispensary owners, managers, lawyers, accountants, and all other facets pertinent to any other industry.”
Joye has been pro-cannabis for over 20 years and a participant in the OMMP program for many years. One of TLC’s owners, a long-time friend, approached her about coming on board to help manage the start-up of a medical marijuana facility a few years ago. “With my interest in the holistic aspects of cannabis, as well as the potential for future legalization,” she says, “I jumped at the chance.”
As General Manager, Joye assists with all of the day-to-day duties of the business. “This includes ensuring regulatory compliance,” she says, as well as “maintaining a professional, welcoming environment, managing vendor relations and intake of cannabis and cannabis-related products, social media/PR, assisting with the project management of our soon-to-open recreational space, basic accounting such as accounts payable… and whatever else the day may bring me!”
The Oregon cannabis industry, she says, “works incredibly hard, and those who are doing things right care about presenting themselves as educated and professional. The stereotypical “stoner” image is far from what I observe or experience with the people I interact with. I think with the advent of medical marijuana access points, and a regulatory agency helping to guide us, we are legitimizing cannabis as a viable, responsible industry.”
Joye sees a great future for cannabis in Oregon. “Not only do we produce great cannabis, but we have an industry full of creative, intelligent people spearheading an array of ancillary businesses to help make this a thriving, successful enterprise for all involved.”