Pubdate: Thu, 09 Jun 2016
Source: Portland Mercury (OR)
Column: Ask a Pot Lawyer
Copyright: 2016 The Portland Mercury
Author: Vince Sliwoski


Are Giant Marijuana Companies on the Way?

Will new cannabis laws create giant marijuana companies, like a 
Philip Morris or Anheuser-Busch of weed?


The pot industry is in a curious place. On one hand, it is still a 
cottage industry. On the other, there are lots and lots of cottages, 
with legal sales projected to hit $6.7 billion this year. Somehow 
this is happening despite recreational weed being legal in just four 
states and despite the strictures of federal law. Since we have no 
idea how pot will be regulated going forward, it's actually kind of 
fun to theorize about it.

Today, adults in Oregon and a few other states can buy weed like we 
can buy beer. I do not know if that will be true when federal 
prohibition ends, or if weed will become a prescription-only item. 
Whether pot is sold at Plaid Pantry or cloistered away at Central 
Drugs, though, it seems likely that very large enterprises will 
emerge just like they have in the greater commodity and pharma 
sectors. That's just the way our system seems to work.

Rather than keeping weed friendly, small, and local, one smart lawyer 
in my firm argues that federal prohibition is actually creating Big 
Marijuana, or Big Canna. The idea is that state lawmakers are 
naturally attracted to the campaign support and ease of dealing with 
sophisticated businesses, and especially to the tax revenues that Big 
Canna could provide. Oregon recently took a remarkable step toward 
scaling the industry, abolishing residency requirements on 
canna-business ownership and investment. Today, lots of money is 
streaming into Oregon, with the goal of bringing mom and pop to the 
next level. Someone will make a movie about all of this one day and 
it will be about how smart this was, or about how we stepped in it.

Today, people argue that we need to keep the big money out, and the 
industry on the small side. Others argue that without sturdy 
financial backing, our pot businesses won't succeed. A corollary 
debate is whether legislators should treat pot like a common 
agricultural product, or adopt strict controls to ensure that giant 
weed firms don't crowd out the masses. Very smart and 
well-intentioned people disagree about all of this.

However you feel about these issues, the fact that Big Canna makes 
people nervous is understandable. Companies like Philip Morris and 
Anheuser-Busch profit in part off dependency and are generally 
oblivious to local communities. The business model of these companies 
has always been somewhat insidious: They promote consumption and aim 
to frustrate research and laws that trim profits. There are obvious 
lessons in all of that for the marijuana industry.

For now, it seems that we are on an indirect path to Big Canna, and 
it seems more likely that weed will be a commodity than a 
prescription drug. If that happens, here's hoping there is also room 
for other, nimbler brands of all shapes and sizes, like with craft 
beer and wine. For now, it's up to the states.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom