It’s been nearly three years since WW first looked at the personalities shaping Oregon’s recreational cannabis industry, then in its infancy. Since then, the state’s weed market has blossomed—perhaps too much, if you ask growers saddled with a surplus they can’t sell. The rapid expansion has brought new power players to the fore. Here are 10 people who have moved to the front of the pack.
Can industry giants control the rights to Girl Scout Cookies and Sour Diesel? Not if Beth Schechter can stop them. An Atlanta native who moved to Portland in 2015 from San Francisco, Schechter runs a nonprofit formed in 2015 to combat patent claims on common cannabis strains. It was a response to filings for patents by a company called Biotech Institute LLC, which has since secured three patents relating to the breeding, production and processing of cannabis. While the company hasn’t acted on any of those patents, Schechter and many pot lawyers think they are indefensible. The move spooked many in Oregon’s cannabis industry. (GQ unmasked a Los Angeles cosmetic tycoon, Shawn Sedaghat, as the primary funder of the patent-seeking company.) Schechter speaks on the issue, collects genetic and chemical data, and is building a database to undermine Biotech Institute LLC’s looming claims. Her database will help growers patent new strains, but also protect growers cultivating strains that have been around for decades or more. “So much of the documentation about cannabis is hidden because we’ve had prohibition,” she says. “The patent examiners don’t have the info they need to say whether this plant existed before or not. We’re collecting all of that documentation.”
What people say about her:
“She’s determining what is actually an innovation worthy of being protected.”
Founder of Habu Health in Northeast Portland, researcher at Washington University in St. Louis.
Wilson-Poe doesn’t just research pot. She studies brains. And she’s developed a knack for explaining big science to simple minds. That talent, combined with her Ph.D. in neuroscience, results in her zen for capturing data on the impact of cannabis on the human brain—in part to help medical patients find the best pot for them. This research isn’t federally funded, though she does get federal dollars to do pre-clinical research on how marijuana can reduce reliance on opioids for the treatment of pain. She’s pushing back on the trope that marijuana is a “gateway” drug. Instead, she’s gathering evidence that it works as an “exit” drug that can help wean people off prescription opioids and heroin.
What people say about her:
“What she’s doing with Habu Health is revolutionary. She’s a national and international authority on how cannabis is going to start diminishing the use of opioids.”
Forni has transformed a small, local company into the one of the nation’s first “unicorns” of cannabis—that’s investor talk for a startup with a billion-dollar valuation. There is probably some froth there, but Forni is worth watching. A fourth-generation Oregonian who treats his elderly dog’s arthritis with the CBD oils his company produces, Forni started Select, which later became Cura, in 2015 out of a 700-square-foot apartment in the Pearl District. He and his wife, Lauren, invested $44,000 and maxed out their credit cards to come up with another $66,000 to get the business started. Three years later, no one has a bigger foothold in the concentrate business domestically: Cura has extract operations in Oregon, California and Nevada, and will open its first in Arizona this summer. Forni runs the company with co-founder and current CEO Nitin Khanna, a former tech investor who branched into weed after settling a 2014 allegation of sexual assault. Forni says the company is on track to hit $120 million in sales this year. “Being the leading oil manufacturer in the cannabis space in the world is our mission,” Forni says.
“Tangie, because it’s always bursting with flavor and is a constantly reliable and terpene-heavy strain. Tangie can be very clear-headed and uplifting, which is ideal for a busy and active entrepreneur.”
Peters is trying to create a large cannabis farm with a small environmental footprint. EcoFirma Farms depends entirely on wind power, replaced all of its light bulbs with LEDs, and recently accepted a grant from the Energy Trust to install solar panels at his Canby farm. The savings in energy means Peters’ weed costs less than $450 a pound to grow and process, so even with the average wholesale price dipping as low as $700 a pound, EcoFirma can still turn a profit. Peters also bears watching because he is symbolic of the Canadian entry into this market. Because of different rules governing banking and finance, Canadian companies, lenders and investors can cross the border and plow money into U.S. cannabis. Peters is also relisting a defunct Canadian stock, C21 Investments, and merging it with EcoFirma so the company can sell shares to investors. “There was a lot of bad impressions when Golden Leaf bought Chalice and now Chalice is opening more Chalices, [but] what we’re doing is a lot different,” Peters says. “There is no Canadian asset that was already up and running. We just want to be in the United States, and we’re from Oregon.”
What people say about him:
“[Peters is] crusading for carbon-neutral grow ops, which is really rad.” “He’s such a wonderful human. The two concessions he’s made: He brought in LED lights and bought wind power from PGE by paying that 0.1 cent more.”
Day moved from Flagstaff, Ariz., to Oregon three years ago, and is a key player at Yerba Buena, a fast-growing farm in Hillsboro that received one of the state’s first recreational licenses. The company is dedicated to supporting women and people of color in the cannabis industry and boasts one of the most diverse staffs in Oregon. Nearly half of its employees are women, and a little more than a quarter are people of color. In addition, they’re growing some top-shelf bud. Yerba Buena is one of the only grows that meets the requirements to be both Certified Clean Green and Certified Kind, two stamps of approval for organic cannabis growers who can’t use the term because it is governed by federal regulators. “We hand-trim always and hand-select every bud that goes on the shelf,” Day says. “We ensure our flower when it’s on the shelf is beautiful and smells good and feels good when you use it.” Yerba Buena did $4 million in sales last year.
“I’m really enjoying the Blue Dragon Desert Frost. It’s a high-CBD cultivar. It was a gift from a medical patient who loved this particular strain, and it helped her with her social anxiety. She tracked down one single seed and gifted it to me. It produced beautiful purple buds—just big purple baseball bats. It yields well, tastes like grapes, doesn’t make me super-altered but maintains my level of creativity and focus while relieving my stress and anxiety. Running a cannabis company, I don’t have time to be psychoactively altered.”
Marley Bankoff (The Oil Savant)
Bankoff is the boy wonder of the industry, a maker of terpene-infused oils that are artisanally created and packaged with a wry wit, in pastel boxes and named for desserts like “Tiramisu” and “Kushes and Cream.” Evolvd sells vape pens and oil cartridges—it’s the fastest-growing and most lucrative specialty in Oregon cannabis. With nearly 100 dispensaries stocking the company’s CO2 cartridges, Evolvd has massively expanded its market share in the past year after starting off sales in a single dispensary in Bend. Bankoff’s battery-powered steel vape pens are designed to be leakproof and use rapidly heated CO2 to atomize oil derived from the cannabis plant. A Eugene native whose dad worked in the organic food industry, Bankoff started his extract company in 2014 and has a reputation for creating pesticide-free oils that don’t use harsh chemical solvents.
“We have a variety we just bred—Vanilla Glue—it’s a cross of Vanna White OG and Gorilla Glue #4. It’s sweet and euphoric, and it’s one of those strains that is good for any time of the day. It makes me feel good.”
Soft-spoken, silver-haired and named for The Jungle Book’s main character, Holmes is a molecular and evolutionary scientist with a Ph.D. from Columbia University. But for the past four years, Holmes has been mapping the entire cannabis genome. He is debunking the myth that cannabis comes in two varieties—indica and sativa—and the idea that those categories mean anything about the effect a strain will have when used. “Growers can figure out what they actually have,” he says. “Patients who find something that works for them can get it again.” His company, Phylos Bioscience, tests cannabis varietals for their genotype and chemotype (a fancy word for the ratio of chemicals like THC, CBD and terpenes within the bud). Holmes describes it as “23andMe for cannabis.” Knowing the genetic and chemical makeup of a plant can allow farmers to better combat pathogens and provide precise levels of light, water and soil to maximize harvests.
What people say about him:
“His work gives every producer in our region a huge advantage.”
He’s the referee of the cannabis game. Sweet helped write the laws governing cannabis sales in Oregon, and now he’s in charge of making sure everyone plays by those rules. He works with every business that touches the plant to make sure it complies with the state’s regulations. Sweet likes to describe the government agency as a startup. But now it’s starting to crack down on scofflaws. The minor decoy operation that OLCC started last fall has been catching dispensaries that serve people under 21. (Sweet says the failure rate in Portland—4 out of every 7 shops sold to minors—was particularly disappointing.) But Sweet’s also got his eye on the future of cannabis regulation. Perhaps Oregon should consider a three-tier model that restricts companies from vertically integrating and becoming too powerful, he says. That’s how nearly every state regulates alcohol, and Washington has already adopted those rules for marijuana. “There are two things we need to focus on now,” he says, “the oversupply and saturation problem and the medical system. What’s the proper role for medical marijuana?”
What people say about him:
“He writes all the laws.” “I see Jesse and his team as the bouncers at the bar of cannabis regulations. He either lets me into the bar or he doesn’t.” “They work damn hard to protect the industry.”
A nature enthusiast who spends her spare time hiking, camping and floating on the Columbia River, Poppins also runs Portland’s top cannabis school. She started teaching people about cannabis in 2010 at the Bridge City Botanical Collective, which inspired the Sativa Science Club that she runs now. Her reasonably priced classes cover everything from budtending to the chemical properties of cannabis and its physiological effects on the body. Classes are currently online, but she’s looking for her own brick-and-mortar space to host in-person classes this winter. “I designed Sativa Science Club as a way to draw a different community into the education events,” she says. “Hence the name ‘Club.’ My mission as a leader is to bring all these other people together.”
“Anything pineapple is perfectly hitting the spot. But you know I really do try to encourage people away from strains specifically. I like a 1-to-1 CBD ratio with high levels of limonene—that’s a terpene found to be more energetic and uplifting.’
With enthusiasm and a commitment to quality and research, Barnhart has quietly become a go-to resource for cannabis in Oregon. As the coordinator of Oregon’s largest and most scientifically rigorous cannabis competition, Cultivation Classic, Barnhart has become a connector for conversations about growing, retailing, policy and science. (Disclosure: WW produces Cultivation Classic.) Each year, Barnhart coordinates the gathering, lab testing, judging and data collection from more than 50 different farms and then puts on a 1,000-attendee event to share the findings. A master of OLCC regulations, Barnhart has become an encyclopedia of pot knowledge, working as a behind-the-scenes resource for cultivators and cannabis entrepreneurs.
What people say about her:
“She works her face off.” “She does so much behind the scenes.” “Put Steph on top of the mountain in terms of being inclusive and leading a movement that I promise next year won’t just be in Oregon. Steph is the ultimate badass. She’s another person who doesn’t identify as a cannabis entrepreneur but has been changing the industry.”
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