What factors make a marijuana dispensary great

The cool hipsters from Portland market weed like good wine

Jeremy Plumb walks quickly back and forth between the little tables of the Little T Bakery in southeast Portland. He talks hectically to his business partner on his cell phone; it is important to make decisions quickly. With his tight pants, loose shirt and big horn-rimmed glasses, he looks like one of the many hipsters here in Portland. When he finally puts the phone aside and greets me - the journalist from Germany - he gets even more excited. He wants to convince me of his vision: the reinvention of cannabis.

The buzzwords flow over me like a waterfall (start healing yourself, enhancement drug, re-shaping the conversation, organic, sustainable, craft revolution, cannabis culture, once in a lifetime opportunity). While my iced tea is finished and my poppy seed cake has long been eaten, Plumb has not even touched his drink. He's too busy telling me about his plan. Jeremy Plumb is no run-of-the-mill entrepreneur. He's a weed dealer, runs a cannabis laboratory, and the state-of-the-art glass house for growing marijuana is about to be built. More on that later.

Plumb also doesn't look like a weed dealer or a stoner. As a start-up founder, he has learned to convince his counterpart of his plans within a short period of time. “I'm not interested in the buzz. I gave up everything else to work on this innovation, ”says Plumb. "This model of small, artisanal marijuana farmer that we're trying to create in Oregon can be replicated and exported around the world."

After an hour, he picks up the phone again to process the incoming messages. Too much is at stake to be stopped.

Smoking weed is legal in Oregon

After the legalization of medical marijuana, adults in the west coast state of Oregon have been allowed to grow, sell and consume grass for recreational use since October 2015. Although now allowed, the fight has not yet been won. Because what is legal here still puts you in jail in most states in the United States. The federal government could change its attitude at any time and have the grass farmers, dealers and consumers arrested by the DEA. Because under federal law, marijuana is still punishable. Oregon cannabis stores face enormous bureaucratic and tax hurdles as the federal government continues to oppose the release of marijuana. Even for medical purposes, output should still not be permitted. In Germany, too, a government draft for the approval of medical marijuana is currently being discussed in the Bundestag.

There are still no clear rules, as the first experiences in dealing with permitted cannabis are only just being made after decades of prohibition. The next few years will decide whether the liberal drug policy of some states (in addition to Oregon also Colorado, Alaska and Washington State) is successful and could possibly become a model for the entire USA, but also for Germany. However, if the liberal experiment creates problems instead of solving them, it can quickly be over.

The protagonists of the cannabis scene in Portland are aware of the tight timeframe: Now or never, it is important to lay the foundations for a modern use of the drug. Jeremy Plumb and his partners have an organic, sustainable and locally produced quality product in mind. The field should not be left to the large pharmaceutical companies or the tobacco industry, which is already in the starting blocks to produce M cigarettes. In the hipster capital Portland, where everyone drinks craft beer, keeping your own organic chickens is a good thing, where vintage clothing and beards are chic, weed is sold like good wine: away from the stoner image a lifestyle product that controls the mood and is fun.

Weed from the noble boutique

A glowing green cross in the shop window and a small red sign: You could easily drive past Farma, because the understatement says it all. The Dispensary (that's the name of the licensed weed stores in the state of Oregon) owned by Plumb and his three partners is at the heart of their plan to reinvent cannabis. The business looks different from what you would imagine a weed business to be. The stoner cliché, i.e. Bob Marley posters, bongs, reaggae music and wicked atmosphere, are not found here. Instead, white walls, sparkling clean glass, dark wood, electronic music: Farma is more reminiscent of an Apple store than a fully smoked stoner hole. The salespeople are competent, eloquent, friendly, and besides, they look pretty good too: painted skin, trimmed beards, pierced skin. The weekly newspaper Williamette Week describes Farma like this: Bring your baby boomer parents to this place and they will understand that cannabis is indeed a medicine - and they will love the weed.

The aim of all of these efforts is to change the image of cannabis. In the prohibition narrative, cannabis was sad, dangerous, and negative, says Farma co-founder Sam Heywood. “We spent a lot of time trying to repair the damage,” he says. The fact that it is no longer forbidden and frowned upon only makes cannabis interesting for a short time. But grass should not be defined by what it is not. “But what is cannabis?” Asks Heywood. “A tool to improve people's lives. It's supposed to help lead healthier and happier lives, ”Heywood replies to himself. The new branding of cannabis is also supposed to be fun. And be romantic. “Cannabis brings people together, provides great insights about yourself and others, makes music sound better, there are many ways in which cannabis creates a wonderful experience. That's the other part of the narrative, ”says Heywood.

Wednesday afternoons at Farma: In the entrance area at the ID check - only those over 21 years old are allowed in the shop - there are always queues. One after the other: a young tourist couple, a one-legged wheelchair user, a bearded man in his twenties, two older women with walking sticks, a couple with a dog. The customers can be roughly divided into two groups: the boys who are looking for fun and those who need the weed because they are in pain, for example because they are undergoing chemotherapy.

“What kind of experience are you looking for?” The Farma salespeople usually ask at the beginning of the sales talk. Most customers want a type of weed that is fun, makes them happy, and makes them giggle. It is also important to customers that the herb does not cause anxiety.

“Purple Indica is one of my personal favorites. It relaxes a bit, but doesn't pull you down too much. It also gets you a little high in your head, ”says salesperson Sean Mager to customer Joshua Justice, while he never loses eye contact. Salespeople must have three qualifications: loving people, relating to marijuana, and being curious to learn more about plants. Every week there is further training, the salespeople are to be trained to become “weed ninjas”, as Heywood calls it with a smile.

Unlike in Germany, all of this can be talked about openly shop. Anyone who wants to indulge in the desire for cannabis intoxication in this country must first go to the park. For example in the Berlin Hasenheide or the Görlitzer Park. There you speak to men waiting at certain corners: “Do you have any grass?” - “Yes. For how much? ”After naming a sum, the dealer fetches the grass from the bushes and hands out the estimated amount on the open hand. Consultation, variety selection, quality control, information about ingredients, origin or risks? Nothing.

In Oregon, however, anyone over the age of 21 can buy up to seven grams of marijuana flower, an edible cannabis product, an applicable cream, and a concentrate per day. In addition, each household can grow up to four cannabis plants - more requires a permit. The weed may not be smoked or consumed in public, but not everyone adheres to that, as I notice again and again when walking through Portland. This regulation also leads to a dilemma: All hotels in the state smoke - and thus also a ban on smoking. In any case, driving a car or operating heavy machinery on grass remains a legal no-go in Oregon.

After the purchase, each customer is given a leaflet with warnings, in particular that marijuana is harmful to children and pregnant women. Cannabis is not suitable for everyone, says Heywood, but it is also less dangerous than nicotine or alcohol. A fatal overdose, for example, is not possible with cannabis. “You have to address certain problems. There are legitimate concerns: we need to keep cannabis out of the reach of children, passive smoking is a problem, ”says Heywood. “Let's solve these problems. But regulation is definitely the better solution than prohibition. "

After the customer Joshua Justice has seen, smelled and explained various varieties, he buys a gram twice. “One more for bedtime, which brings me down a bit. And the other kind of hanging out with friends, ”Justice says. “I grew up in the Midwest, where weed is absolutely frowned upon. And I still feel like I have to hide it. But wait, I then think: It's completely legal and I'm an adult. It's great that the stigmatization is now disappearing a little. "

After many years of Reagan's war on drugs, fears are still deep. Farma does everything to make the shopping experience as pleasant and relaxed as possible - out of the drug corner, into the lifestyle market, so to speak.

No money on the electricity bill

When I see Plumb again the next day, he's blown away. The electricity in his house was turned off because he couldn't pay the bill. He will soon be selling his house and moving on a sailboat. Right now everything is a little too much for him. Plumb is about to take the next step: He has raised $ 1.4 million in investment funds to build a greenhouse plantation. But now he lacks the money for his own electricity bill.

“It's the right moment to let go of everything, to live minimalistically and to focus,” says Plumb. For the single there is currently only his job and his mission, everything else has to take a back seat. “I don't have a normal life right now because it's critical to the big picture that we get it right,” says Plumb. The nationwide end of cannabis prohibition is in sight; but now the course is being set in Oregon that will become a golden standard of regulation.

Actually, the dispensary owner Meghan Walstatter is his competitor, but neither of them play by the "old rules". The common experience during Prohibition (Plumb also calls the time Dark Age) welded them together. “I have a direct line to my competitors and we share how we do our business. Pepsi and Coke would never do that, ”says Walstatter of her friend Plumb.

She is also suffering from cost pressure: “We now have all these regulations and higher fixed costs. I have to pay a lawyer and an accountant now. "Plumb agrees:" Before, you could be robbed, killed or arrested at any time. But you also earned more dollars for it than you do now. ”This is how quickly the lucrative drug trade becomes an ordinary business that has to struggle with bureaucratic hurdles and problems.

The perfect high

24 different varieties are for sale at Farma; in addition, there is cannabis in edible, skin-applicable and pure form. In addition, seeds and cuttings for self-cultivation and various accessories such as vaporizers, pipes or grass mills. As with the jeweler, the types of grass are available under large panes of glass. After every visitor, the tapes and fingerprints are immediately swept away. Unlike the competition, Plumb doesn't care about the conventional division into Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica. Over the years, the plants have been crossed so often that the species are hardly ever pure. Instead, he developed a classification that is only based on the ingredients that are measured in laboratory tests.

In addition to the THC and CBD content, the terpinene are also shown. Terpinene occur in many plants and provide the specific smell - and also the special nuance of the intoxication. THC is the main intoxicating ingredient in cannabis; CBD or cannabidiol are not intoxicating but have certain medicinal effects.

The varieties marked in red such as Mount Magic Hood, Sour Diesel or Pineapple make you rather euphoric, in a good mood and enterprising. Blue varieties like Obama Kush, Dogwalker or Sunset Sherbet are more likely to be calming, relaxing and sluggish. There are also green, CBD-rich varieties that are barely intoxicating but have strong medicinal effects. The gram costs between 8 and 14 dollars (7 to 13 euros) plus a 25 percent sales tax.

Through the scientific and precise approach, Farma tries to increase the predictability of the effect. Because anyone who has had a negative experience will probably never try weed again. That would also make him a lost customer. Heywood believes that most negative experiences are caused by overdosing. “It's not about how much you can take, but how little you can take to get where you want to go,” Heywood explains the philosophy of Farma.

Plumb himself consumes various types of grass in micro doses with the help of his vaporizer in order to consciously influence his moods and moods. He can get by on a gram of grass for four days. "I'm an introverted guy and I probably would have had to be treated for panic attacks at some point if I hadn't discovered cannabis," says Plumb. He hopes cannabis will start a medical revolution. Plumb believes that marijuana could spearhead the return to plant and folk medicine. The trend will move away from experiment-based medicine, which works statistically, towards personalized medicine, which is adapted to one's own, decoded genome.

Was on drugs and the AIDS crisis

It didn't always go as well as it does now. Plumb first came into contact with marijuana as a teenager: his stepfather grew weed behind the house and sold it illegally. “I was the coolest teenager because I gave cannabis to the older teenagers. That's how they stopped beating me up, ”says Plumb.

A little later he started experimenting with cannabis himself. He only took small doses: one pull was enough.

In the mid-1990s, when Plumb was still a teenager in California, he experienced two developments that have shaped him to this day. On the one hand, the one proclaimed by Ronald Reagan raged Was on drugs: Even small amounts of grass put people behind bars for years. The United States, and especially African-American men, are still suffering from the consequences today. On the other hand, the AIDS crisis in the gay stronghold of San Francisco was approaching its sad climax. “Back then, AIDS sufferers ran like zombies through the streets of San Francisco without any relief. I was ashamed at the time because I knew cannabis could have relieved her symptoms, ”says Plumb.

The great weed intoxication

39-year-old Plumb has always been a bit of an outsider. His mother raised him in the neo-pagan faith (English: paganism), he attended Montessori schools - an absolute rarity in the USA. He studied psychology and opened his own practice in Portland in 2007 - shortly before the financial crash. But the recession changed everything; suddenly nobody had the money to go to a psychologist. Now Plumb got a license to plant medical cannabis for patients. He was a focused nerd who constantly tried to optimize the growing conditions. Now he was finally able to implement his interests as a business. "Cannabis is a great instrument," says former DJ Plumb. "I feel a little like a musician who mixes, equalizes and arranges in his garden."

By chance he met the lawyer Sam Heywood at the time - he moved into the house next door. They became friends through music. When the licenses for the medical cannabis business were put out to tender in 2014, they made common cause.

Then March 3, 2014 approached: At 8:30 a.m., the homepage was activated for applications. It was a brutal land grabbing system: only one business was allowed within 1,000 feet. Only those who submitted the application first received the license. That is why they had prepared two applications at two different locations. The work of the past few months was at stake.

Heywood and Plumb prepared meticulously: Heywood kept practicing on an exercise sheet, all the information was on a cheat sheet, because every second could count. Plumb didn't want to be inferior and went looking for the fastest internet connection in town. All lines are routed through an internet hub in the suburb of Beaverton. He persuaded a friend there to be allowed to use his home computer in order to have the fastest possible Internet connection.

When it got 8:30 a.m., they were both pounding on the keyboard. But the friend's computer had a bulky PC keyboard with very tall keys - very different from Plumb's own MacBook Air. Sam [Heywood] hit me a full minute for staying in his familiar surroundings, ”says Plumb. In the end, a bot programmed by a competitor hit Plumb. The competitor's store is 990 feet away, just a touch too close. But the second application, which Heywood sent in at 8:35 a.m., was successful: They were given permission to open Farma.

Suddenly instead of ten up to 200 customers

At first, business was sluggish. Only around ten patients a day came by Farma. When, in November 2014, 56 percent of Oregon voters voted for the recreational use of cannabis, there was reason to celebrate. “I'm not a patriot, but I'm a little proud of this democratic experiment that led to the end of Prohibition,” says Plumb. In one fell swoop, the potential customer base was expanded from 50,000 to two million plus tourists. Today up to two hundred customers buy from Farma every day; most days sales are over $ 10,000.

Nevertheless, the business partners have little of the money left. Unlike any other company, the cannabis industry can only deduct a small portion of its expenses from tax. Paragraph 280e of US tax law is to blame for this. The paragraph from the 1980s was created to put an end to the drug mafia: Those who are in the drug trade are not allowed to deduct any of their expenses from tax. A legal gimmick to get mafia bosses behind bars for tax offenses when there is no evidence of a drug trafficking conviction. But because the cannabis business is legal in Oregon but not federal law, the paragraph applies to Farma as well. Expenditures for personnel, rent or advertising cannot be deducted, so sales are taxed as if they were profit. "The chance is not small that your tax liability is higher than your actual profit," says Heywood.

Then there's what Heywood calls the zombie business. So far, only small states have approved cannabis, so a lot of capital from larger states is flowing into Oregon. Portland, a city of 700,000, has over 200 cannabis dispensaries - far too many. The Portland cannabis market is no longer rational, the bubble is inflated and threatening to burst. Despite not making any money, countless deals remain open - investors are hoping to hold out longer than the competition.

In this environment, it is difficult for the Farma men to navigate: Many factors that could determine their business success are beyond their reach. For example, because of federal law, customers are only allowed to pay in cash. The dispensaries are therefore all sitting on a pile of cash, and there are always robberies.

The best weed in the world

Now that the sale is up and running, Plumb is about to revolutionize the cultivation of cannabis. South of Portland, next to a turkey farm, a state-of-the-art marijuana greenhouse plantation is to be built for 1.4 million dollars, which will grow the best weed in the world. Following the example of the many small breweries in Portland, Plumb wants to produce the best quality here under optimal conditions.

The plans still have to be kept secret. Especially here, in the country, the people are more conservative; a cannabis plantation could quickly lead to protests.

With partners, Plumb has applied for a level 2 license to grow cannabis. This allows cannabis plants to bloom in a greenhouse on 929 square meters. The glass house should meet the latest ecological standards: rainwater use, energy-saving LED lights, electricity from solar panels, integrated vermin management, biological fertilizer. “We're not only planning for the next two years, but for the next twenty years,” says Plumb. 600 plants with up to six harvests distributed over the whole year are supposed to produce grass of the best quality - and then be sold at Farma.

The American election day on November 8th could be her big fateful day: On the one hand, the USA elects a new president. Should Donald Trump win, the conservative populist could strike at the cannabis industry. Then the shaky house of cards on which liberal drug policy is built threatens to collapse.

On the other hand, California, the most populous state, is voting on the approval of cannabis - currently everything points to a clear majority in favor of liberalization. If the economically and politically powerful state releases cannabis, an avalanche could set in motion, which the federal government in Washington, D.C. can hardly resist.

Then Plumb, Butler and Co want to be ready and build the perfected glass house complex again in California. You, who have been operating in the legal gray area for years, finally want to reap the fruits of your work.


Disclaimer: This story was created as part of the two-week TransAtlantic Storytelling Summerschool 2016 of the fjum_forum journalismus und medien. The US Embassy in Vienna kindly paid for the cost of the flight to Portland.

Editor: Esther Göbel; Production: Vera Fröhlich.