Oregon’s maturing cannabis market attracts big business and unusual deals

Oregon’s maturing cannabis market attracts big business and unusual deals

By Kristian Foden-Vencil

As Oregon’s cannabis market matures, and a push to federally legalize the product gains momentum, an industry that got its start in basements, backyards and forests is taking its ambitions global, at the same time as local consumption drives breakneck growth.

Small shops are consolidating into chains. Brands are growing in clout. Small-scale consumers are getting more comfortable with the idea of stopping by the dispensary for a joint or edible, driving sales up 40% last year to over $1 billion.

Russian oligarchs and African monarchs have even taken note. In short, as Oregon State University marketing professor Aimee Dinnin Huff put it: “The market is becoming more mature.”

Stem Holdings is based in Florida, but it has a significant footprint in the Pacific Northwest. And it briefly floated a plan to create a cannabis monopoly with the monarchy of Eswatini, a small country in southern Africa that’s often referred to as Swaziland.

Stem Holdings owns TJ’s Gardens in Eugene, manages Alternative Organics in Medford and recently bought Yerba Buena Cannabis in Hillsboro.

Former Yerba Buena employee Sary Leu said the purchase was a surprise. But it was nothing compared to the shock staff received when they looked into Stem’s filings with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission and found plans for a cannabis monopoly in Eswatini.

“This monopoly deal would basically make it so the only people who’re making money from this is Stem Holdings and the king, or like the monarchy,” Leu said.

Farming is a significant industry among the one million people who live in Eswatini. And while cannabis is not legal, authorities have treated it as such a low priority that there’s a sizeable export trade with South Africa.

Despite those exports, in a press release last year Stem Holdings announced it had preliminary approval to be the only licensed cannabis producer in Eswatini, for a period of at least 10 years.

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