This week we interviewed Casey Houlihan, President of the Oregon Retailers of Cannabis Association (ORCA), in Eugene, Oregon. Casey was originally involved in the campaign to pass Measure 91 in Oregon, and is now focused on developing a wide retailers network in order to advocate for more conducive legislation and subsequent business practices.
IE: Good morning, Casey! Thanks for taking the time to share your expertise with us. As the President and Founder of ORCA, I am sure you have heard from your members on the challenges and opportunities of the growing Cannabis industry in Oregon! Let’s start from the beginning…
IE: 1. What prompted you to start ORCA? Tell us about ORCA!
CH: Well, I had a small group of dispensary owners reach out to me shortly after Measure 91 passed [in 2014] about advocating for some policy changes to help with the transition from medical to recreational. And the ideas they had were good – so good, in fact, that they’d likely be supported by ALL retail cannabis businesses. So instead of just lobbying for the small group of business owners, we decided to establish a statewide trade association to speak on behalf of all retail cannabis businesses and to push for policies that promote our shared interests. This way, we carry more weight during the policymaking process because we have a large and active constituency. It also allows us to sustain the group year-round, and to expand the scope of our mission to fighting for sensible changes to federal laws (280E reform and access to banking services) and corporate policies (facebook, twitter, instagram, banks, credit unions, etc).
After two and a half years, we’ve grown to over 200 member businesses and work to make sure that Oregon creates a business environment that allows our nascent industry to thrive.
“I feel invested in making sure we get it right, and that we can create a template for legalization that other states can follow in the years to come.”
Personally, I had already worked to qualify Measure 91 for the ballot and served as the campaign’s Field Director in 2014, so I saw ORCA as an opportunity to continue the work I was doing to help shape Oregon’s cannabis policies. I feel invested in making sure we get it right, and that we can create a template for legalization that other states can follow in the years to come.
IE: 2. What are some challenges that retailers face in Oregon today?
CH: Red tape, over regulation, constant turbulence, and a part-time legislature. The cannabis industry does not get [from the state legislature and the OLCC] the bandwidth necessary to square away all of its rapidly changing facets, and that’s only going to get harder. We have had to fight tooth and nail just so our issues get the attention and bandwidth needed to effect real and lasting change that helps people.
On top of all that, education around our issue has been a major hurdle. We’ve been fortunate that the Oregon Legislature has had the Joint Committee on Marijuana Regulation, with a set of legislators that have studied the issue closed and been an active part of conversations with stakeholders for years. However, once we get further away from the maybe dozen-and-a-half folks in the state with that level of understanding of the cannabis industry and the state’s regulatory regime, most policymakers lack even a basic understanding of our brand new administrative system for cannabis, let alone how it works.
This year we also saw an effort to increase the tax on cannabis sales by an additional 5% (bringing it up to a total of 25%), which we fought hard to defeat. The most accurate data we’ve seen shows that a 5% increase in prices would lead to a 10-12% decrease in legal market participation – a net loss for state revenue. This gets back to the problem of education. We do all we can to present accurate, compelling data to legislators so that they can better understand the consequences of these proposed policies.
Oh, and that whole 280E “thing” [the section of the federal tax code preventing most standard business deductions for cannabis businesses] is a pretty major hurdle, and has been the focus of our efforts in recent months in coordination with NCIA and some of our other statewide counterparts here in Oregon.
IE: 3. We cannot help but to notice the fast growth of the local scene. What are some unique opportunities for retailers in Oregon?
CH: Oregon’s cannabis industry has been on the forefront of the legal cannabis movement for decades, and this next phase of evolution we are seeing is no different. Oregon retailers get to carry some of the highest quality products in the world – literally – while dealing with one of the savviest consumer bases on earth.
“Oregon retailers get to carry some of the highest quality products in the world – literally – while dealing with one of the savviest consumer bases on earth.”
I think we are poised to see tremendous innovation in the retail market in the coming years, and that Oregon’s vibrant retail sector will be a major driver of these new and exciting advancements. Our unique culture – where cannabis has become very mainstream – will create virtually endless opportunities for the thousands of entrepreneurs entering the industry, and will help fuel a broader nationwide normalization.
IE: 4. What are the main priorities of ORCA this year?
CH: Our main priorities have been to do everything we can at the state level to make a friendlier environment for retail cannabis businesses here in Oregon. First and foremost, that means keeping the tax rate on legal cannabis as low as possible so our state’s legal businesses can compete with the illicit market. We need a level playing field in order to allow good actors to be successful in their businesses, and we can’t create additional incentives for folks to engage in commerce outside of our state’s legal framework. Especially as more states come online with legal adult-use sales, it will become even more important for Oregon to maintain our position as having one of the most competitive sales taxes on cannabis in the country.
We’re also keeping an eye on the future, and listening intently to our members to find our what new services or benefits we can incorporate to provide them more value. As our state’s legislative session wraps up, we’ll be pivoting to working with the OLCC on developing rules for the new set of state statutes. Our role is to make sure that the retail businesses (and the growers, processors, and wholesalers reliant on the success of the retail marketplace) can participate in rule-making have a voice in the process.
Doing all that we can here to come up with a smart set of rules for our retail cannabis system is one of the most important steps for the normalization of cannabis all across the country and across the world – and moving the ball forward on this has and will continue to be a priority to our members. One of our members was recently admitted to the International Rotary Club, and was the first International Rotarian admitted from the cannabis industry. With his membership, he was added to their international email listserv where he was able to introduce himself and explain a bit about who he is and what his business does. Since then, he’s gotten responses from people all over the world, from countries with wildly varying cannabis policies, with reactions ranging from “Cool!” to “Oh that’s very interesting”. Utilizing these opportunities to help show the rest of the world that our little experiment with legalization has been successful is so important.
IE: WOW! Thank you so much for all this invaluable knowledge! We have no doubt that ORCA will continue to grow its member base and serve as a resource for retail businesses in Oregon. We are excited to have you at our show!
This is such amazing opportunity to network and learn from other retailers in the area! For more information on becoming a member, please visit: www.oregoncannabisretailers.com
Visit ORCA in person at Indo Expo Portland 2017 at Booth 111!
To attend as an Industry Pro Buyer, apply here: indoexpo.com/invite