Eugene, Ore. -- (The Register-Guard) There was an unmistakable feeling of excitement among the approximately 400 attendees of the Oregon Medical Marijuana Business Conference Sunday at the Hilton Eugene.
This is the year that medical marijuana retailers or dispensaries are transitioning from the underground, where they have operated in a legal gray area for more than a decade, to the legitimate mainstream in Oregon. Approved by lawmakers last year, the first legal dispensaries opened earlier this month.
Business opportunities abound in those new marketplaces, conference attendees said, both for traditional marijuana but also for hash oils and gels, marijuana-infused edibles and a wide range of smoking or “vaping” accessories.
Those opportunities look all the more enticing to advocates given the possibility that 2014 could also see Oregon voters legalize recreational marijuana in the November election, following the lead of their counterparts in Colorado and Washington state.
“We’ve truly reached a tipping point,” said Ben Mackaness of Corvallis-based Can! Consulting, which helps clients establish legal dispensaries and related businesses.
Staffing a booth on Sunday, Mackaness said conference attendees’ interests are “all across the spectrum.”
“You’ve got those who want to play the ‘long game’ (with a possible marijuana business), those who want to make a quick buck, those who just don’t want to miss the boat completely,” he said.
In addition to vendors, the conference, which continues today, features expert speakers on a number of issues, including practical advice for applying for and operating a dispensary; possible changes to Oregon’s marijuana laws; and legal discussions about some local governments’ efforts to establish one-year moratoriums or bans on dispensaries.
Passes for the two-day conference cost $349.
Travis MacKenzie, 43, recently submitted two applications for medical marijuana dispensaries, one in Eugene and one in Springfield — although he said he ultimately only wants to operate one.
MacKenzie said Sunday that, with his wife, he now legally grows medical marijuana for a total of eight patients, mostly relatives and friends. They began doing so after his wife suffered a brain injury and was given a prescription, MacKenzie said. Neither of them was even an occasional marijuana user before that, he added.
Growing marijuana “has become a kind of fun thing to do and perfect,” he said. “We thought (the dispensary) would allow us to continue that and provide more patients with the access they need.”
At the conference to “network” and to check out a “vacuum oven” — used to dry out marijuana to extract its oil — MacKenzie, an electrician, said he doesn’t necessarily have big ambitions for his marijuana business.
“I’m not trying to get rich or become a mogul, but I would like to make my living doing this,” he said.
Steve Prinster, a 53-year-old Gold Beach resident and a medical marijuana cardholder, said he is at the conference “just to hear what’s going on.”
Prinster said he’s intrigued by the possibility of becoming a wide-scale medical marijuana grower or processor. He could even see himself becoming a full-time hemp farmer, he said.
“There’s so many opportunities in so many different areas when you really start to think about it,” he said. “Maybe I can find a little niche.”
David Cox, a Springfield resident, thinks he’s already found his.
Using an initial $6,000 investment, he started a company last year called Dr. Vape, which sells battery-powered “dome vaporizers,” also known as “pens.” Resembling an electronic cigarette with a bulbous glass attachment, the device can be used to vaporize an extremely potent marijuana-based wax concentrate.
“It’s one of the trendiest ways” to consume marijuana, said Cox, at his booth at the conference.
Cox said he hopes to get his vaporizers — which are manufactured in China and which he sells in kits that cost $60 to $130 — in all of the local dispensaries that open. Dr. Vape is already doing $100,000 in annual sales, he said.
“We set ourselves apart with the quality and durability of products,” he said.
Cox said he decided to start the business because he “saw the huge potential in the industry.”
Still, challenges remain for the budding entrepreneurs, Russ Belville, the host of a marijuana-focused online talk radio show, told conference attendees.
“There are a lot of people who don’t want you in business,” he said.
Belville said he’s “not too worried” about local governments’ efforts to enact moratoriums on dispensaries.
“Once they start seeing the tax revenues, (allowing dispensaries) will be irresitible to a lot of these cities,” he said.
But, Belville warned, the debate about legalizing recreational marijuana this fall will feature arguments about giving kids more access to the drug as well as possible dangers from more people driving while high.
Still, he said — after giving attendees some data-based counterarguments — “We’re winning this battle, folks.”
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