March 19 2019
A recent Sunday afternoon at the Bridge City Collective cannabis shop in North Portland saw a steady flow of customers.
Little wonder: A gram of weed was selling for less than the price of a glass of wine.
The $4 and $5 grams enticed Scotty Saunders, a 24-year-old sporting a gray hoodie, to spend $88 picking out new products to try with a friend. "We've definitely seen a huge drop in prices," he says.
Across the wood-and-glass counter, Bridge City owner David Alport was less delighted. He says he's never sold marijuana this cheap before.
"We have standard grams on the shelf at $4," Alport says. "Before, we didn't see a gram below $8."
The scene at Bridge City Collective is playing out across the city and state. Three years into Oregon's era of recreational cannabis, the state is inundated with legal weed.
It turns out Oregonians are good at growing cannabis—too good.
In February, state officials announced that 1.1 million pounds of cannabis flower were logged in the state's database.
If a million pounds sounds like a lot of pot, that's because it is: Last year, Oregonians smoked, vaped or otherwise consumed just under 340,000 pounds of legal bud.
Yet state documents show the number of Oregon weed farmers is poised to double this summer—without much regard to whether there's demand to fill.
The result? Prices are dropping to unprecedented lows in auction houses and on dispensary counters across the state.
Wholesale sun-grown weed fell from $1,500 a pound last summer to as low as $700 by mid-October. On store shelves, that means the price of sun-grown flower has been sliced in half to those four-buck grams.
But it has left growers and sellers with a high-cost product that's a financial loser. And a new feeling has descended on the once-confident Oregon cannabis industry: panic.
"The business has been up and down and up and down," says Don Morse, who closed his Human Collective II dispensary in Southwest Portland four months ago. "But in a lot of ways it has just been down and down for dispensaries."
Related: This Portland entrepreneur is trying to beat the odds with a new business model—delivering a monthly box of pot to your door.
This month, WW spoke to two dozen people across Oregon's cannabis industry. They describe a bleak scene: Small businesses laying off employees and shrinking operations. Farms shuttering. People losing their life's savings are unable to declare bankruptcy because marijuana is still a federally scheduled narcotic.
To be sure, every new market creates winners and losers. But the glut of legal weed places Oregon's young industry in a precarious position, and could swiftly reshape it.
Oregon's wineries, breweries and distilleries have experienced some of the same kind of shakeout over time. But the time table is faster with pot: For many businesses, it's boom to bust within months.
Mom-and-pop farms are accepting low-ball offers to sell to out-of-state investors, and what was once a diverse—and local—market is increasingly owned by a few big players. And frantic growers face an even greater temptation to illegally leak excess grass across state lines—and into the cross hairs of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' Justice Department.
"If somebody has got thousands of pounds that they can't sell, they are desperate," says Myron Chadowitz, who owns the Eugene farm Cannassentials. "Desperate people do desperate things."
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