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Notes from Oregon’s first day of legal cannabis sales

By Sue Vorenberg
Cannabis Daily Record

There was a prevalent party vibe in Portland, Oregon on Oct. 1, 2015 – the first day of legal recreational cannabis sales in the state.

Having covered the launch and evolution of Washington’s recreational cannabis system over the past several years, I was extremely curious to see how Oregon’s first day of sales played out. (I’m in Vancouver, Washington and Portland is literally a 15 minute drive from my house – so I know the city reasonably well).

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First, some kudos – Instead of grudgingly accepting the market (as we’ve seen in some Washington cities and I’m sure in some of Oregon’s more rural towns as well), Portland and its residents seem to openly and lovingly welcome it.

I’m sure there are residents who strongly oppose rec sales – but biking through the city for the launch of the Portland Pot Pedal Bike Tour I found a lot of enthusiasm, curiosity and support from the people I met (we went to a few eateries along with the head shops and dispensaries where you’d expect that sort of response).

During our ride – and our guides were wearing shirts with pot leaves on them – people on the street waved, asked about the tour and cheered us on. And I think with that sort of public attitude Portland is well set to become one of the best marijuana tourism destinations.

The pot shops (which are medical dispensaries that are now allowed to sell up to a quarter ounce of flower as Oregonians wait for their full recreational system to be set up in 2016) don’t work quite the same in Oregon as they do in Washington.

In Washington, rec stores carry products from a wide array of growers. Each product includes lab testing information (products with high mold counts or other issues aren’t allowed to be sold to recreational customers – so the lab testing also protects the public) and comes in a pre-sealed container.

Growers in the Washington system are often the rock stars – they market themselves well (at least some do) and many have built a following of loyal customers.

In Oregon’s early start program, the pot shops (slash medical dispensaries) mostly have their strain selections in large jars that you can open, smell and examine with the aid of a budtender. When you buy some buds, the shop puts them in a container – like a bag or canister – sticks a label on it and sends you on your way.

It’s nice to be able to look at the flower you’re buying. In Washington some stores use sniff jars, but customers aren’t allowed to open them (it’s a legal thing).

I was surprised when I asked budtenders about their growers at the three shops I visited. At all three, the budtenders had to look up the information – and in some cases they couldn’t tell me who the grower was at all.

The standard answer in that case seemed to be “we buy from growers with warehouses all around Portland.”

For my purposes, I only bought strains if the shop could identify the grower. But I review cannabis so that information is something I need.

In that way Oregon seems opposite of Washington. Dispensaries in Portland are the rock stars, more than the growers – or at least they were during the first day of sales.

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Another thing that struck me was the per-gram prices in Oregon – they were higher than I anticipated.

For months, stores in Vancouver, Washington have been chewing their nails wondering how to compete with what many thought would be very cheap cannabis flower prices in Portland.

Vancouver shops – after some insanely high launch prices in the summer of 2014 – have gotten their prices down to a range of about $10 to $17 a gram, including taxes. I’ve seen a few $8 strains in Washington as well, although they’re hard to find. But when the fall harvest comes in most stores expect to have product at that price or even cheaper.

The three Portland shops I visited had a very similar range of prices – and those prices don’t include taxes (there’s no tax on cannabis in Oregon until next year). I bought four grams at different shops. The prices per gram were: $15, $12, $12 and $8.

Checking store menus around the city I’ve seen most prices range from $8 to $16 per gram. (One person on Twitter told me they found a shop with $6 grams at Top Shelf Wellness in Phoenix, Oregon, but that seems to have been an opening day special – the shop’s online menu lists prices that range from $9 to $12).

I imagine the Portland prices will also drop as the fall harvest comes in, but we’ll see.

After all they hype about how inexpensive recreational cannabis was supposed to be in Oregon, I have to say I’m not impressed. But then again it was opening day – and I imagine the market will adjust and change significantly over the next few months.

For now it seems the prices in both markets are about the same.

The interplay between the two markets on the border is something that endlessly fascinates me. And I plan to follow it closely in the coming months.

Overall, it’s great to see Oregon join the legal recreational cannabis revolution. I’m eager to try more of the state’s famed buds and to see how they compare with Washington products.

It’s also wonderful to have two markets – each with their own array of products – so close to one another. It will be great for tourism, giving connaisseurs the best of both worlds without having to travel far.

Sue Vorenberg is the founder of Cannabis Daily Record. She has 20 years of experience as a journalist covering a wide array of topics, including cannabis legalization and consumer markets. She also founded The Columbian’s Cannabis Chronicles blog and spent about three months working in the industry. You can reach her at sue@cannabisdailyrecord.com

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