The Growing Concern: Ask A Farmer
Legal cannabis business in Oregon is literally blooming, everywhere. And at the root of this boom is growers, the farmer who spends the seasons preparing for planting, preparing for growing, and preparing for the harvest. And then starting all over again.
While there are many Oregonians who excitedly planted their first four legal plants in July, and many other who are excited to jump into canna-business, there are many other who have been living this reality for years, either as hobbyists, growers providing medicine to their patients, or –gasp—growing illegally. Whatever the case, pioneers and greenhorns alike are all excited to step into the light, and into the world of legal cannabis.
But what is “legal” looking like for growers so far? The Messenger caught up with MediSun Farms: “Sunstainably grown cannabis,” and Courtney Zehring of Tokei Farms “Cultivating consciousness,” both medical cannabis growers in the Rogue Valley.
RVM: What are some of the biggest changes you have experienced?
MF: There are so many changes! Coming into the light, knowing it is legal takes a lot of the fear away. Working with a lawyer and CPA is crucial to navigating some of the language of the bill (House Bill 3400). Branding and marketing is also a new, and crucial element to be navigating.
CZ: Legalization is nothing but positive. We are being forced to hold ourselves and each other accountable, and that is a good thing. While it can be difficult to make the adjustments away from our old ways, “going legal” is requiring simple and realistic goals for fulfilling the requirements. Also, there is no shame in what we are doing and that is a direct result of legalization. Get branded! I am a fucking hippy, not a sell-out, but it is necessary! With that brand you have an opportunity to promote positive things, the band is an opportunity to express your values.
RVM: What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced?
CZ: It is mostly just difficult to shift the mentality and make adjustments according to the new rules. Such as, rules—that I fully support—that prohibit spraying, which are great, till you have Russet Mites, and that is the only way to get rid of them. Learning to run a legit business is an obstacle- I went to school for Environmental Studies and Sustainable Agriculture, not business. But hiring a good lawyer and CPA helps that.
MF: One of the most challenging things at this point is working to move forward to meet the demands of the new rec market, without having answers as to what the requirements of the licenses are. Even with the help of a good lawyer and CPA, they can only answer about 3 out of 10 questions that you need to really build a budget and project how MediSun Farms will really be able to proceed- How much is a license going to be? How much canopy (how many plants) is going to be granted? There is a lot that is still up in the air.
RVM: Have the economics changed?
MF: There are no write offs, because of Fed 280e, so taxes end up cutting into 50% of revenue. And there is the 50 percent tax that was approved by Measure 15-133 in Jackson County. This is a very expensive business. To begin with, infrastructure, supplies, and labor is a huge cost. There are also the new costs of lab testing and farm certifications, CPA, lawyer, distributer fees. So yes, the economics have changed a lot. Labor costs have to go down. Hopefully prices will remain stable as it is important to maintain fair trade for cultivation. Having taxes pushed to the retailer and purchaser is very helpful to the grower.
CZ: Yes, there are more players in the game, and everyone in the business is taking a hit. But consider that most standard farms have a 4 percent profit margin, and some cannabis growers have had a 500 percent profit margin. The industry growing and all the new players in the cannabis industry are creating more jobs and feeding the economy. The taxes are going to be paying for the infrastructure and services that everyone has been using the whole time- roads, schools, parks, everything. Now growers will finally be able to carry their share of the weight of paying for them with these taxes.
RVM: What are you most excited about moving forward?
MF: Building a brand around something that you have believed in for so long is very exciting. It is exciting to develop contracts with those who want to invest into legal medical and recreational cannabis.
CZ: That there is still so much room for leadership in this industry. Oregon is awesome, you can call your representative, and have them really listen to your concerns, you can still participate in democracy. It is exciting to fight for the new laws that are being formed to protect neighborhoods from drying out or pesticide contamination. It is exciting to support ourselves collectively in creating sustainable laws for both the industry and the environment.