A local advocacy group formed by business people and professionals with a connection to marijuana on Wednesday named itself Celebrate Cannabis.
The not-for-profit organization, a 501(c)(6) trade association, has a mission to unify the legal cannabis community and “educate the public about cannabis and shine a light on the positive impact this industry is having on Central Oregon,” according to a news release.
Its founding board members include Jennifer Clifton, a Bend attorney who specializes in cannabis business law; Hunter Neubauer, co-owner of Oregrown, a marijuana producer, processor and retailer; Chris Telfer, a certified public accountant, Oregon Lottery commissioner and former state senator from Bend; Gary Bracelin, co-owner of Tokyo Starfish, a Bend marijuana retailer; Judy Campbell of Campbell Consulting Group, a Bend public relations firm; and Jack Robson, of High Desert Pure, a processing company that specializes in cannabis oil.
Celebrate Cannabis set two goals: to create partnerships with local law enforcement and to provide information about regulations, safe use of cannabis by adults, new product innovation and other topics.
Clifton said Wednesday she’d contacted the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel and others to express interest in some form of cooperation. She said Hummel and an OLCC representative returned encouraging responses.
An acknowledged problem with over-production of marijuana in Oregon is lowering retail prices for marijuana but also fueling the black market.
“We think there’s a solution, and we think that we can work together with local law enforcement and local government, the OLCC and the (Oregon Health Authority) to help eliminate the illegal market,” Clifton said.
She anticipates a membership of 50 to 60 people directly involved in cannabis businesses or providing it services, such as lawyers, accountants and engineers. She said Celebrate Cannabis, still in the formative stage, must hear from its membership and from consultants with expertise in cannabis and law enforcement before fielding concrete proposals.
Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson said he welcomes an industry group whose goals include enforcement of existing laws on marijuana.
“Any organization that’s going to form to allow law enforcement access to these grows to ensure they’re complying with local and state law will be a huge help. I’m very concerned with the overproduction of marijuana,” Nelson said Wednesday.
The OLCC has too few inspectors for the job at hand, 23 agents for 1,200 marijuana grows and retail shops across the state, he said.
“Look, I’m not trying to create an issue with existing marijuana businesses or marijuana grows,” he said. “I want the existing businesses and grows to follow the rules and also have a successful enforcement arm in place to ensure those rules are followed.”
Nelson, like Patti Adair, chairwoman of the Deschutes County Republican Party, opposes any new marijuana farms in the unincorporated part of the county. Adair said she’s concerned with the impact of marijuana on livability, with children’s access to cannabis and with reports of individuals driving under the influence of marijuana. Plus, she said, the burgeoning cannabis industry may drain local resources, such as water.
“There are people from Florida and Tennessee, people from all over the country coming here,” Adair said. “Are they really thinking of keeping Oregon as clean and unpolluted as possible?”
Clifton said that, unlike other states where marijuana is legal in some form, Oregon provides a level playing field. Supply and demand is the normal evolution of any industry, she said.
“Our market is a free market. I have a lot of clients that are generally farmers and are now expanding their crops into cannabis and/or hemp; it was accessible to them,” she said. “There will be winners and losers as there are in any industry. It’s not for the government to decide; it should be left to consumers.”