Last year, Golden Leaf Holdings, a leading cannabis company, paid $3.3 million for almost 100 acres of land in Oregon to build a marijuana growing, processing and research site.
The future looked bright: Oregon voters had legalized recreational marijuana in 2014. But Measure 91 gave counties and towns the opportunity to opt out and ban pot businesses.
Days after Golden Leaf signed the papers on the property in Marion County near the town of Aurora, the county banned marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas. So did about 100 other towns and counties.
“That shut us out completely out of the recreational market, which was our original strategy,” said Beau Whitney, a Golden Leaf vice president.
Now, Golden Leaf has another chance. Marion County is one of about 50 Oregon towns and counties that will decide in the Nov. 8 election whether to opt back into the marijuana business, according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which regulates and licenses the industry.
Other states across America are also grappling with the issue of how to deal with the emerging marijuana business. Recreational or medical marijuana measures are on ballots in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada and North Dakota.
At Golden Leaf’s property, in the Willamette Valley between Portland and Salem, valuable machines to process marijuana into potent oils are mostly idle, used only for medical marijuana. One greenhouse was filled with rows of robust pot plants, but about 20 other greenhouses stood empty under rainy skies on a recent afternoon.
Whitney said Marion County will lose $7.5 million in employees’ wages per year and in company spending for infrastructure development if voters say no to marijuana, forcing Golden Leaf to move elsewhere.
“We just want a level playing field,” Whitney said. “We’re just looking for reasonable regulation.”