As I’m sure you’ve noticed, Bend has a surplus of dispensaries. When marijuana became legal in Oregon, the novelty of just being able to walk into a store and come out with cannabis was cool enough to keep many dispensaries going—even the hollow Tin Man ones, basically empty on the inside with crappy customer service and a poor selection base.
But now after a few years, the cream has had a chance to rise and Tokyo Starfish continues to prove why it’s consistently one of the most popular dispensaries in Bend. Even as tastes change and customers keep searching for whatever is the new-new, Tokyo realizes the delicate balance it needs to tread to keep people coming back.
When looking at what’s important for a dispensary to offer in 2020, Director of Marketing Jason Shurtz explains the Tokyo philosophy. “Providing consistent, friendly and welcoming customer service,” says Shurtz. “Also providing a product selection that isn’t directly catered to people with a lot of previous cannabis experience. Make things easy and comfortable for customers; coming into a dispensary for your first time can be a daunting experience for some and you don’t want anyone to have a bad experience for their first time.”
Thanks for being gentle with us, Tokyo. It’s always nice for pot shopping to feel fun instead of like a chore, and the Starfish always keeps it light and green.
On a typical Saturday, at 4:30 am, Boulder, Colorado-based competitive ultramarathoner Flavie Dokken takes 5mg of Wana Recreational Tarts, puts on her running shoes, and heads out for a five-hour run. But Dokken is not your typical stoner, she uses cannabis as part of her workout routine and she is sponsored by Wana Brands, a cannabis company that produces cannabis-infused products. Dokken told Vice that the gummies help her tune into her breathing. Although Dokken uses THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive element of cannabis) during training, she stops using it a week before race day because of drug testing.
“Active lifestyle” might not be a set of words commonly associated with cannabis use. But cannabis companies are trying to change that by sponsoring athletes and athletic teams, getting them to post photos of products on their Instagram grids or put brand stickers on their athletic equipment, in order to gain visibility with the athletes’ fans.
Brands like Nike, Saucony, and New Balance, synonymous with the running industry, do not allow their athletes to be associated with cannabis. But that doesn’t mean they never partake. Dokken said she knows of a handful who do. Not only are they secretive about their use, but they also avoid affiliating with her for fear of guilt by association. She said that these athletes, “won’t follow me on Instagram,” but she also states that when she wears her Wana gear on the trails in Colorado, “people give me a high-five, which is awesome.”
Even as big brands don’t want to talk about cannabis use, it is increasingly officially sanctioned for competitive professional and amateur athletes: In 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code removed CBD from their list of banned substances, and allows an athlete to have THC in their system during a random out-of-competition drug test. But THC is still a prohibited substance for post-race or in-competition drug tests; this all means athletes are fine to use cannabis during the off-season and even during training, but cannot compete with the drug in their system.
In 2018, Canada legalized marijuana with the Cannabis Act, which prohibits athletes from being sponsored by cannabis companies. Canadian MMA fighter Elias Theodorou is trying to change that. He uses cannabis for pain management for bilateral neuropathy in his upper extremities (chronic pain in his wrists, elbows, upper neck, and spine). “Doctor prescribed cannabis is the best medical option to manage my pain,” he told VICE. “Traditional, first-line medications like pain killers, opioids, and NSAIDs have all had detrimental side-effects to my body as both a patient and athlete.”
Theodorou, who has been sponsored by Pert Plus, Mattel, and Coors Light, explained, “This fight is not only about working with cannabis companies, but also the need to knock down the barriers and negative perception other companies may have with cannabis.”
Mendi, a CBD startup company, has “athlete ambassadors” who help promote their products, including soccer player and Women’s World Cup winner Megan Rapinoe, and her girlfriend, WNBA player Sue Bird. The athlete ambassadors receive Mendi products to promote on their social channels and attend Mendi events. The company was founded by Rapinoe’s twin sister, Rachael, who is also a former pro soccer player. Although CBD is banned in the WNBA, Bird uses it in her off-season. She told New York Magazine, “It’s great for recovery and it relaxes me. I usually take it at night so I can sleep, which helps with recovery, and have had amazing results.”
While the use of cannabis might seem diametrically opposed to what an athlete values—inaction versus action—calm, relaxation, and rest are integral to athletes’ overall success and well-being. But athletes don’t even limit use to off-hours in our modern times: In 2019, The University of Colorado Boulder released a study on over 600 runners with legalized cannabis that found 80 percent of cannabis users mixed workouts with cannabis use. Although cannabis is not a performance-enhancing drug, Dr. Rosemary Mazanet, Chief Scientific Officer of Columbia Care, claimed to VICE it can help diminish performance anxiety. “You’re able to be more in the moment and have more fun, to be more limber, to be more flexible,” said Manazet.
Pulmonologist Vandana A. Patel stressed to VICE via email that smoking cannabis can negatively impact an athlete’s performance. “Inhaling cannabis can cause structural lung injuries, like building air pockets in the lung which can rupture under increased physical stress.” Because of this, many athletes, like Dokken, stick to edibles.
The owners of the Oregon-based dispensary Tokyo Starfish all previously worked in the snowboarding industry before they transitioned into opening a dispensary. Tokyo Starfish-sponsored professional snowboarder, Max Warbington explained that the dispensary focuses on the lifestyle aspect of snowboarding rather than the performance aspect.
Tokyo Starfish-sponsored snowboarder Nora Beck told VICE that she uses cannabis during snowboarding when she needs to relax. She explains, “It’s like you’re on hyperdrive and you just need to turn the volume down a little bit.”
“Tokyo Starfish is actually invested in snowboarding and they understand that I’m out there doing my job as a pro snowboarder and just the fact that I have the Tokyo sticker that’s like a total bonus for them,” Warbington said. As a pro snowboarder sponsored by Tokyo Starfish, Warbington sends the company videos and photos throughout the winter. He also wears their T-shirts and hoodies and markets them to snowboarding fans on his social media.
When asked whether he feels like there’s a stigma as an athlete sponsored by a cannabis company, he replied, “I think they’re probably always will be [a stigma] just the same as there’s a stigma with alcohol because it’s a substance that people abuse.”
In a phone interview with VICE, Warbington said he is particularly conscious of his image. “I definitely don’t want to push it [cannabis] on the youth and that’s why I always like to preach that.” He does not allow Tokyo Starfish to post images on their social media of him smoking pot, though Warbington sometimes posts a picture of a joint in his personal Instagram stories. He said, “I always second-guess it every time because of my influence.”
Brands like Tokyo Starfish and Wana are trying to combat negative associations with cannabis. They want the public to affiliate the recreational drug with an active lifestyle. Warbington said it’s really important to him that people know he and his Tokyo Starfish teammates do not personify the “lazy stoner” stereotype. Far from it. “We’re out here smoking weed,” he said. “We’re the first person up [on the slopes in the morning] and the last one to leave the mountain.”
You might have heard that smoking marijuana makes you stupid.
If you grew up in the ’80s or ’90s, that was more or less the take-home message of countless anti-drug PSAs. In more recent years, it’s a message we’ve heard — albeit in more nuanced form — from Republican candidates on the campaign trail and from marijuana opponents at the state-level.
The contemporary version of argument can be traced to a 2012 Duke University study, which found that persistent, heavy marijuana use through adolescence and young adulthood was associated with declines in IQ.
Two new reports this month tackle the relationship between marijuana use and intelligence from two very different angles: One examines the life trajectories of 2,235 British teenagers between ages 8 and 16, and the other looks at the differences between American identicaltwin pairs in which one twin uses marijuana and the other does not.
Despite vastly different methods, the studies reach the same conclusion: They found no evidence that adolescent marijuana use leads to a decline in intelligence.
I wrote about the study of British teenagers before, when it was still a working paper. It has been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication, and its findings still stand: After adjusting for a range of confounding factors, such as maternal health, mental health and other substance use, the researchers found that “cannabis use by the age of 15 did not predict either lower teenage IQ scores or poorer educational performance. These findings therefore suggest that cannabis use at the modest levels used by this sample of teenagers is not by itself causally related to cognitive impairment.”
They did find, though, a distinct relationship between cigarette use and poor educational performance, which is in line with what other research has found. The researchers did not find a robust link between cigarette use and IQ.
The authors of this study stress that their results don’t necessarily invalidate the findings of the 2012 Duke University paper. That paper focused on persistent heavy use over a long period of time, while this study looked only at low to moderate levels of adolescent use. “While persistent cannabis dependence may be linked to declining IQ across a person’s lifetime,” the authors write, “teenage cannabis use alone does not appear to predict worse IQ outcomes in adolescents.”
But the researchers in the study of American twins tackle the Duke University findings head-on. Examining the life trajectories of twin pairs in which one uses marijuana while the other doesn’t, they found that those who used marijuana didn’t experience consistently greater cognitive deficits than the others.
Identical twin comparisons are a powerful tool for this kind of analysis, because their genetic makeup is nearly identical and their early home environment is consistent. This automatically controls for a lot of the confounding factors that can make sussing out causality difficult.
The twin data “fails to support the implication by Meier et. al. [the authors of the Duke study] that marijuana exposure in adolescence causes neurocognitive decline,” the study concludes. The numbers suggest, on the contrary, that “children who are predisposed to intellectual stagnation in middle school are on a trajectory for future marijuana use.” In other words, rather than marijuana making kids less intelligent, it may be that kids who are not as smart or who perform poorly in school are more inclined to try marijuana at some point in their lives.
Also, if marijuana use were responsible for cognitive decline, you might expect to find that the more marijuana a person smokes, the less intelligent they become. But this paper found that heavier marijuana use was not associated with greater decreases in IQ.
None of this is to say, though, that you can smoke all the weed you want and not have to worry about negative outcomes. There are any number of negative physical and mental health outcomes linked to marijuana use — especially heavy use. Some research suggests that heavy marijuana use may increase the risk of psychosis or suicide. These risks are further compounded among people who start using marijuana early in their lives. And people who use heavily or start at an early age are at a high risk for cannabis-use disorder, a form of drug dependency.
Marijuana is a drug. And just like any other drug — alcohol, nicotine, caffeine — there are risks and benefits associated with use. But exaggerating the extent of those risks and benefits won’t help create smarter policies. For proof of this, simply review the history of the drug war.
Oregon was one of the very first states in the US that legalized medical cannabis. Initially, the regulations allowed growers to have only a specific number of plants, thus limiting the size of the operations. “Everything was dictated by the number of plants you could grow,” says Jason McAlister, Director of Cultivation with Tokyo Starfish, a cannabis operation based in Oregon. “This ultimately meant that everyone here became very good at growing large plants and trying to produce the highest quality product possible.”
From plant count to canopy size The situation changed when recreational cannabis was also legalized. “With that change, also new rules came,” Jason further explains. “One of these was that instead of a plant count, we could go for canopy size – literal physical square footage – which allowed us to reconsider how we grew.” Indeed, Jason remarks that Tokyo Starfish was growing with HPS lights, hung 8-10 feet up from floor, and using 15 to 20-gallon pots. When the plants reached a certain size, they were brought to the flower room following the strict medical guidelines.
“But then, there was this company here in central Oregon called Smart Grow Systems (SGS) that was pioneering LED lighting powered by Remote DC power- designed specifically for vertical farming,” he says. “So, we met with those guys and started testing their lighting equipment. After one year of testing, we converted the entire facility over to their LED system. This was definitely a turning point, as we wanted to grow vertically, and LED is in our opinion the best type of lighting use in vertical farming. A quick whiteboard session later it was easy to see the benefits of a vertical racking system that would allow us to put multiple canopies in one room.”
G(r)o(w)ing vertical Thus, Jason and his team started looking for the perfect vertical racking system that could be used together with the LED lights of their choice. “We had to make sure that the quality of the end-product was as good or better than before,” he says. “But obviously, at the end of the day we had to find something that worked optimally with the workflow of the facility, and that’s why we selected Pipp Horticulture’s vertical racks.”
Jason further recounts that Pipp had a relationship with SGS, which made the implementation of their LED a particularly smooth process. “It worked out very well,” he says. “Pipp figured out the light attachments and fans, and how the lights and racks would integrate with each other. It was a win-win to go with the Pipp racks.” Tokyo Starfish then proceeded to install the new vertical racking system themselves, which is their thing as Jason points out; “we build and install everything ourselves. Admittedly, the Pipp system was extremely easy to install, but even easier was the way it operated: the racks are very mobile and have handles that allow you to move the racks to open workspaces, or use the lights more precisely between the plants in the racks.”
Smaller plants, but many many more of them “The system has allowed us to re-examine the flow of how we grow. Now we are growing much smaller plants – based on the height of the rack: instead of growing a few hundred large plants, we grow 15,000 small plants.” Jason continues to explain that the implementation of the vertical system not only made them re-evaluate how they grow, but also other aspects of the cultivation. “You have to re-examine how to keep up the mother plants, and how you handle the cloning, for instance,” he says. “But at the end of the day, we have tripled our canopy, thus tripling our yield while reducing energy cost significantly.”
In order to set up everything properly, Pipp Horticulture has worked closely with Tokyo Starfish throughout the process. “Working with Pipp from day one has been on point with our goals,” Jason says. “They came into the facility, took measurements, and basically walked us through the whole process. They have qualified installers who can come to your facility and assemble the rack system. But we like to do things ourselves and the ease of assembling their rack system made quick work for us.”
As the industry moves towards consolidation, operational efficiencies will have an even greater role in every cannabis cultivation. “To accomplish that, vertical farming is one of the best options we’ve found,” Jason observes. “The combination of optimized cultivation space, smooth workflow, and LED lighting makes vertical farming a particularly good solution for producers who have the resources and hindsight to adopt the methodology. We believe this will be particularly critical as the most efficient operations should be able to produce a higher quality end product at lower operational and environmental costs, which for Tokyo Starfish, we hope will help attracts more customers and retail partnerships moving forward.”
Tokyo Starfish’s brand story began almost twenty years ago. During a snowboarding event in Japan, Jason McAlister, Kale Gray, Keith Legum, and Gary Bracelin bonded while exploring the kaleidoscopic city of Tokyo. They were especially captivated by the view from their hotel, which looked out on a cross-section of five roads crawling with cars and neon lights. If they squinted, the vista looked like a gargantuan, psychedelic starfish.
After the trip, the four remained good friends. And they never forgot that view. Fast forward to 2013: Legum and Bracelin were attending a school fundraiser when Bracelin suggested they start a retail cannabis business. Legum proposed they recruit McAlister and Gray. Then, as if sent by the cannabis and snowboarding gods, a location presented itself. “It was a turn-of-the-century cottage that had become a dog grooming place and antique shop,” said Gray. “We completely opened up the space and remodeled from the ground up.”
The Bend, Oregon shop became a strange and alluring phenomenon, like the city in which the group met. Both locals and tourists took notice of the new retail establishment with its bizarre name and echinoderm logo.
Roles to play
Each of the four founders plays a specific role: Legum, who always has been fascinated by architecture and design, was charged with building out the space. Gray handles marketing and branding. McCalister, in charge of operations, is the details dude, while Bracelin oversees buying and distribution.
DID YOU KNOW… ABOVE TOKYO STARFISH IS A TWO-BEDROOM, ONE-BATH, CANNABIS-FRIENDLY BUD ’N’ BREAKFAST APARTMENT[THE ONLY ONE IN CENTRAL OREGON] THAT CAN BE RENTED.
During construction, Legum’s driving concepts were “homey,” “friendly,” and “bucolic.” Those three words still define the experience. “From the second a customer walks in the door until they leave, customer service and the shopping experience are number one,” said Gray. In addition, he noted, the owners insist the shop reflect their love for the outdoors, action sports, and hanging out together. The quaint, snow-cabin-esque aesthetic Legum created exudes coziness and warmth. Flourishes like extracts displayed on skateboards, neatly folded apparel and coffee table books stacked in custom-made wood racks, vintage SnoPlanks snowboards here and there, and a mountain bike station on the porch gave Tokyo Starfish a singular vibe.
“He [Legum] did a great job of taking all of our insane ideas and spitting them out into one cohesive-looking place,” Gray said with a chuckle.
The dispensary’s signature attributes aren’t confined to the first floor. Located above the shop is a two-bedroom apartment the partners had intended to turn into an office. Instead, at Gray’s suggestion, they created Bend’s only bud ’n’ breakfast. The spot has been a big hit, he said, and rentals add extra revenue.
“It was an opportunity to expand the experience of the shop,” noted Gray. “People who stay there love it. Many want to move in permanently.”
Although Bend hosts a smattering of professionally run and well-stocked dispensaries, with more on the way, Tokyo Starfish has become not only a local favorite but also a must-visit tourist spot. Many local guidebooks encourage tourists to stop in. Located near mountain biking trails, fishing pools, and snowboarding peaks, the shop has become a sort of ground zero for the action sports crowd to stock up before a day playing outdoors.
As for products, Tokyo Starfish places priority on growing its own flower with an emphasis on potent CBD strains. After all, a day on the slopes or cruising the rugged, snaking trails can leave active folks with aches and pains. In addition to stocking flower from most of the local farms, Tokyo Starfish also offers what Gray called “connoisseur CBD strains” exclusive to its in-house grower, TG Industries. Extra-potent flower like Blue Shark, Harlequin, and Harle-Tsu fly off the shelves, he said.
He also said business growth has exceeded expectations. Between retail, wholesale, and grow, the company now employs thirty-five people. Gray is particularly proud of that. “Being able to create jobs for people is pretty awesome,” he said.
The shop sees nearly 400 customers a day; more during tourist season. While flower composes 50 percent of sales, cartridge and edibles sales are growing rapidly. That makes perfect sense to Gray: Both items are on-the-go-friendly. “Pre-rolls are picking up steam, too,” he said.
A ‘secret weapon’
Tokyo Starfish’s secret weapon may be its brand ambassadors and buzzy event sponsorships. Professional snowboarding star and friend to the owners Max Warbington tops the list. Tokyo Starfish sponsors Warbington’s sold-out Quarterpipe Campout weekend, which takes place May 20-21 annually. Warbington’s signature showdown brings together some of the top riders and ancillary characters for a non-stop weekend of riding, partying, and catching up with old friends, all of which is filmed by cinematic master John Stark. Tokyo Rose also participates in the Dirksen Derby 10, river surfing with ambassador Jorma Nagel, and Mount Bachelor hiking excursions with a who’s who of the action sports world.
“We all come from the action sports world, and most of our employees do too,” Gray said. “Warbington is a local pro snowboarder who is a big advocate of ours, as we are of his. He’s one of the best because he goes out and makes things happen for himself. It’s really cool to have an advocate who brings things to the table that we can help with.”
More likely than not, the cannabis lover in your life already has their favorite dispensary—and dispensary products—well in hand. Putting a container of edibles or flower under the tree this year will be sure to make them smile, but if you’re looking for something besides product to wrap up and give this year, here are a few ideas available at local dispensaries.
A Night at the “First and Only Bud and Breakfast in Bend,” courtesy Tokyo Starfish. Average cost: $160/night (seasonal variance)
Have friends or family who want to come to Bend and experience all the wonders of legal cannabis? Book them a night at the Bud and Breakfast, located above Tokyo Starfish, which is a two-bedroom plus loft that is cannabis friendly. Guests even get a gift card to Tokyo Starfish with their stay. Bookings available at: vrbo.com/1135822
“Bong Appetit Cookbook,” available at Dr. Jolly’s. $30
Sure, you might already know how to slap some ganja butter into a boxed mix of brownies—but for those looking for a more elevated experience, this book delivers. Featuring 65 sweet and savory dishes, and cocktails, that can be made with cannabis.
“A Woman’s Guide to Cannabis: Using Marijuana to Feel Better, Look Better, Sleep Better–and Get High Like a Lady” book, available at Dr. Jolly’s. $16.95
Have a hesitant or new cannabis user in your life? Let this book help them explore the ins and outs of using weed for pain relief and more.
Both of these books are available at Dr. Jolly’s online store at Dutchie.com, where you can even get your goods delivered to your door.
ReStash Jar from Oregrown. Medium size $25.
Love the buds, but not the smell? Give the gift of a stash jar adorned with a super-cool logo and choose the colors your gift recipient loves most.
Look for the “square tumbler” at Oregrown’s store.
Pot culture has come a long way since the days of pseudo-Rastafarian head shops, Cypress Hill’s puerile glamorization of weed in the ’90s (see also “Hits from the Bong”), and the High Times monthly centerfold. Credit the mainstreaming of marijuana and the massive influx of cash that legalization has brought to dispensaries in almost a dozen U.S. states. Now, many are pouring their profits into legit product research, high-end retail designs, and “green glove service” for a more discerning clientele. These 10 marijuana dispensaries across the United States, in particular, offer unique customer experiences to match their one-of-a-kind, designer storefronts.
The High Expedition
Two hours north of Anchorage, in the tiny mountain town of Talkeetna, Alaska (population: 876) lies The High Expedition. It’s no doubt the most remote dispensary on this list. The rustic, log-cabin storefront feels more like an old-timey general store with only a “Cannabis Purveyors” sign on the outside to hint at the building’s true nature. The building is steeped in history as it served as the home of famed mountain climber Ray Genet who perished on Everest in 1979. Today, a modest museum inside the store commemorates his life and and the mountaineering achievements of others. It’s difficult to imagine a more appropriately “Alaskan” dispensary.
Las Vegas, Nevada
It was only a matter of time before Vegas erected the largest, most over-the-top dispensary in the country. Situated a mile off The Strip, Planet 13 is a sprawling, 40,000-square-foot behemoth that’s equal parts dispensary and entertainment complex. Customers will find a dizzying array of cannabis-related wares from tinctures and topicals to edibles and extracts with 42 cash registers waiting near the exit. However, the mega-dispensary is also big on creating a multi-sensory experience to make this a destination unto itself. Massive LED-lit lotus flowers mark the entrance while motion-activated, colored flooring, otherworldly orb lighting, and a huge 3-D projection wall make the inside feel more like a contemporary art museum. In spring 2019, Planet 13 announced an expansion to include a cafe, a pizza restaurant, and a 115-foot glass wall to showcase the making of their products in the attached production facility.
Tokyo Starfish is the antidote to Planet 13’s “bigger is better” mega-dispensary ethos. The Oregon-based shop promises a boutique, small-town experience where the […] budtenders legitimately care about their clientele — enough to remember their individual preferences and tastes. What truly sets it apart, however, is that it’s likely the only dispensary in the country that operates as a “Bud and Breakfast.” Just upstairs from the retail space is a two-bedroom apartment for rent. Naturally, it’s 420-friendly.
San Francisco, California
San Francisco boasts more high-end dispensaries per capita than almost any city in America, so competition is fierce. What sets Harvest apart from its Bay Area counterparts is a design and experience that feel more like an organic grocer than a high-priced head shop. Most of the products including edibles, concentrates, topicals, and, of course, flower, are sourced from local, organic growers and producers. Plus, unlike most high-end pot shops, the products here are openly displayed throughout the store for customers to readily inspect, smell, and handle.
Denver and Seattle
The multi-state Diego Pellicer chain has long been recognized for the beauty of its storefronts — an upscale aesthetic that’s equal parts apothecary and old-school haberdashery. This emphasis on style befits the brand’s namesake, a 19th-century hemp entrepreneur. But, these shops aren’t all sizzle and no steak. They promise some of the highest-potency strains in the country with THC levels that routinely test higher than 30% (that’s very, very strong). The best part? The prices are surprisingly reasonable.
Great Barrington, Massachusetts
It’s already getting harder and harder for marijuana dispensaries to distinguish themselves from the competition. Beyond flashy designs, dirt-cheap prices, and knowledgeable staff, outlets like Theory Wellness are looking to “seed to sale” (think “farm to table” for weed) business models to attract eco-conscious, small-business-friendly customers. The rural, Berkshires-based Great Barrington location receives all of its product from a sister shop in nearby Bridgewater where the company’s entire inventory is grown, harvested, and packaged.
Om of Medicine
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Where most dispensaries lean on glossy, futuristic, Apple-inspired designs, Om of Medicine looks to keep the pot-shopping experience quirky, bold, and fun. The Ann Arbor-based shop is a blend of modern yoga studio and art gallery. The lounge area encourages customers to linger with comfortable orb chairs, a guitar for guest use, and even monthly comedy shows.
San Francisco, California
Barbary Coast Dispensary finds its way onto every list of “best marijuana dispensaries in the U.S.” and with good reason. Here, the sophisticated high-design defines the experience. It’s not the only dispensary in California to offer a customer lounge, but its lounge sets the bar for what a modern-day smoke shop experience should be. With Tiffany-inspired chandeliers, gentlemanly leather seating, and rich wood throughout, the atmosphere is equal parts speakeasy and old-school barbershop.
Dockside Cannabis SODO
Seattle’s Dockside Cannabis SODO has all the hallmarks of a modern-day pot shop including a nice, open floor plan with a bright, designer decor. But, what sets it apart is the legit cannabis museum inside. One corner of the shop is dedicated to the science and history of all things cannabis. The collection was born largely of Ohio activist Don Wirtshafter’s hoard of related memorabilia including old-school medicine bottles. The entire collection covers more than one hundred years of pre-prohibition cannabis history dating as far back as 1830. Terpene scent jars and a “feel table” round out the shop’s unique multi-sensory experience.
New England Treatment Access
While NETA’s name has all the sex appeal of a walk-in clinic, their Brookline location is stunning. Situated in a historic bank building with soaring ceilings, tall arch windows, and a beautifully restored dome ceiling, it’s no doubt the most dramatic setting of any dispensary on this list. But what sets it apart is the incredible menu. All of its vaporizer products are dosage- and strain-specific, and the list of high-end edibles includes Belgian chocolate. What’s more, the staff is among the best-trained in the state to make the best recommendations for customers’ specific needs.
The Bend marijuana shop Creative Crops has faced nearby competition for the duration of its two-year existence, and now, the business and its Scott Street building are for sale.
Co-owner Denise Drazil said her customer base is increasing, despite the fact that a large chain, Mr. Nice Guy, bought out her competitor around the block on Davis Avenue late last year. Drazil and her partners — her three grown children — decided to list the shop for sale because of unexpected changes in their lives. “If we do keep the business, we’re going to do OK,” she said.
Marijuana business owners say a dwindling supply of eligible locations and a backlog of applications before the Oregon Liquor Control Commission has created an opportunity for shop owners to sell.
It’s been almost four years since the Oct. 1, 2015, start of recreational marijuana sales in Oregon. Since then, more than 600 shops have sprung up around the state. By now, those pioneering retailers can see that “things are going well, or they’re not,” said Kale Gray, co-owner of Tokyo Starfish, which has three locations in Bend [and one in Salem]. “We’re seeing consolidation in the marketplace.”
Yet marijuana’s retail footprint is expanding in Bend, which is home to 24 shops, according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. A new store is under construction in the former Riverbend Brewing sports pub building at 2650 NE Division St., just up the road from The Herb Center. Frye of Bend LLC applied for a retail license at 2650 NE Division, but it has not yet been issued, according to the OLCC.
Entrepreneur Jacob Jenkins said he hopes to open his first store, CannaVida, at 325 NE Franklin Ave. by Sept. 3. The location is the former home of the medical marijuana shop Garden Kings.
“There’s still a lot of people that think you can make a lot of money at it, and you can,” said Josh Kelleher, a Southern Oregon real estate broker who works with cannabis businesses, including Creative Crops.
While some shop owners who’ve been in business from the start of legalization are looking for an exit, plenty of entrepreneurs still want in, Kelleher said.
There’s an advantage to starting a marijuana business at this stage of the industry’s evolution, Jenkins said. “Now, there’s some actual statistics to base your future on.”
The CannaVida store on Franklin Avenue will be part of a vertically integrated business that includes production and processing, Jenkins said.
Jenkins hopes to set CannaVida apart from the competition with a technology-centered sales floor. The store will be equipped with iPads where customers can learn more about the inventory and see suggestions based on past purchases, Jenkins said.
As with other types of retail, location is key to marijuana stores’ performance, Kelleher said. A store with “decent” performance will have gross sales of $1 million per year, he said.
In Bend, there aren’t many places left where one could legally open a store, said Nick Harsell, former owner of High Grade Organics on Davis Avenue, just east of the Bend Parkway. That made it easier to market his shop, which he sold to Mr. Nice Guy for an undisclosed amount.
In May 2018, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission declared it was too backlogged to process new marijuana license applications of any kind after June 15 that year. The “pause” only added to High Grade Organics’ value, Harsell said.
The OLCC does not allow marijuana retailers to transfer licenses, but the agency will facilitate the surrender of one license and issuance of another for an existing business, spokesman Mark Pettinger said.
“It was definitely a leveraging play,” Harsell said of the licensing backlog. “There was no other way to get a dispensary.”
The “pause” that OLCC enacted is still in effect for retail businesses, Pettinger said. “You may remember that we had a surge of applications in the run up to that date,” he wrote in an email. The agency is still assigning those applications to investigators, and until that’s complete, it won’t work on anything that was submitted after June 15, 2018.
Separately, the state has placed a moratorium on processing new applications for marijuana production. That could be in effect until Jan. 2, 2022.
Bend’s larger marijuana businesses are looking to expand in other parts of the state.
Oregrown Industries, which has a store downtown, will open three locations between Labor Day and the end of the year in Cannon Beach, Portland and Eugene, CEO Aviv Hadar said.
Buying out existing stores might have been quicker, but Hadar said the company and its investors wanted premium locations. The Eugene store at 211 W. Sixth Ave. is near the Hult Center for the Performing Arts, he noted.
Oregrown intends to pair the high-traffic locations with expensive interiors.
In Portland, the vaporizer company Pax Labs will build a store within Oregrown’s store at 1111 NE 12th Ave., Hadar said. “That Portland location’s going to be a tourist mecca.”
Tokyo Starfish is looking for opportunities in the Willamette Valley, Gray said.
“We opened up multiple locations in town because we feel that people shop for cannabis like they go to 7-Eleven — the one they like the most, nearest to them.”
For those counting, the last time local stars Larry and His Flask played together was a year ago this month. Typical for this high energy, self-styled “Post-Americana” rock band, the “This Remedy West Coast Tour” included 14 shows in five western states over the span of about two weeks.
With a year passing since then, I had to ask, does the group still exist?
“To me it does,” said Andrew Carew, band member since 2008.
But since that tour, the band hasn’t played together and reports no plans for future gigs. So why does a band that has recorded seven full-length albums and two EPs, and has toured all over the world with bands like the Dropkick Murphys, simply stop playing?
It’s complicated—but hang with me.
With roots in Redmond, the band was formed in 2003 as a three-piece punk rock band with Greg Johnson. “Larry and his Flask” is a fictional character created by band member Jamin Marshall in 2003.
Over the subsequent 17 years, the band evolved. The number of members reached a high of 11 in 2008, and the sound changed over time. According to the LAHF website, the band spent “its first half-decade stuck in a primordial, punk-rock goop where the goal was always party over perfection.”
By 2008 the band had radically changed its sound. Acoustic instruments prevailed, Ian Cook became the lead vocalist, Jamin Marshall went back to drums and multi-part harmonies became common—all while high-energy live performances continued to attract fans.
During the 2019 tour, the band included five members: Ian Cook on lead vocals and guitar; Kirk Skatvold on mandolin, trumpet, guitar and vocals; Jeshua Marshall on double bass, harmonica and euphonium; Dayne Wood on drums; and Andrew Carew on banjo, trombone, trumpet, guitar and vocals.
Conspicuously absent was the band’s co-founder, drummer and first lead vocalist, Jamin Marshall, who permanently left the band in 2018.
“He just needed a change in his life, the road stopped appealing to him—which it did to most everybody in the band,” said Jeshua (Jesse) Marshall, Jamin’s brother and co-founder.
In a 2015 Digital Music News article titled “Why Bands Break Up,” author Ari Herstand cited fatigue as a main reason band members part ways.
“No matter how successful a band becomes, sometimes the grind of the road can become too much,” wrote Herstand.
“We played in Norway, Italy, probably 12 different countries in western Europe, Canada, Alaska, Hawaii and Newfoundland. It was incredible,” Carew recalled.
“So many incredible shows and tours, so many that they blend together,” Jeshua Marshall reflected. “The Vans Warped Tour in 2011, opening for Dropkick Murphys on a six-week tour of the U.S., relentlessly touring North America and Europe. I loved almost all of it, to be honest.”
In addition, the financial challenges of self-managing a band and the pressures of family back home all contributed to the current situation.
Carew also spoke to the other obvious factor. “Back in 2008, we were all in our 20s and ready to drop everything. Now everyone’s in their 30s, have families and careers.”
Carew also pointed to the influence of front man Ian Cook.
“We pretty much relied on Ian as the main songwriter, singer and front man. You can’t do a show without him. And being a father and husband and having new twin boys, he’s focusing on that now,” said Carew.
The other band members are focused elsewhere as well. Kirk Skatvold works at Tokyo Starfish, a Bend dispensary. Jeshua Marshall continues to be very involved in the Bend music scene.
“Music is my life. I’m currently working on my debut solo album with Todd Rosenburg of Mad Caddies who is producing and drumming on the record,” he said. Marshall also plans to tour in Europe this summer with an Austin-based band.
Carew works in the building industry and continues his musical passions, forming a local band called “Andy Carew and his You Can Toos,” playing old jazz-swing standards.
But international touring aside, have we seen the last of local shows featuring Larry and His Flask?
Jeshua Marshall leaves the door cracked open. “Best answer I can give is a definite maybe. Under the right circumstances it would be a blast to get it moving again but… I’m happy if we leave it as an incredible 16-plus-year adventure with my brothers and best friends.”
Adds Carew, “Don’t lose hope, because it’s not impossible that we might play again.”
Law enforcement authorities intercepted $48 million worth of black-market marijuana headed from Oregon to 37 states over a three-year period, and officers blame the illegal exports on a statewide glut of regulated marijuana and low prices.
Some of the black-market marijuana comes from illegal growers, some diverted from legal recreational producers, processors or retailers and some comes from medical growers, acknowledged the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which oversees the Oregon’s legal recreational marijuana program.
Most of the illegal product seized — about 14,500 pounds — was probably grown on U.S. Forest Service land, and came from Jackson, Multnomah, Josephine, Lane, Deschutes and Washington counties, according to a report from the Oregon-Idaho High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a federally funded program that collects data from 14 counties in Idaho and Oregon.
“This could be larger in scope than the data sets show,” said Chris Gibson, executive director of the Oregon-Idaho High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. “We have a state law that says cannabis cannot go out of state, and that’s our focus.”
Deschutes County has seen a six-fold increase in the amount of seized marijuana so far this year, said Bend Police Lt. Brian Kindel, who is part of Central Oregon Drug Enforcement team. In 2017 the CODE team confiscated about 100 pounds of cannabis, compared to 600 pounds in the first 10 months of this year, Kindel said.
“We’re only stopping a small amount of it,” he said. “There’s a lot more going out. We’re not getting all of it.”
With more than a million pounds of excess cannabis logged into the Oregon cannabis tracking system and retail prices at a record low, black market sales — skimmed product from the legal recreational market, medical growers or illegal growers — have become tempting and profitable.
In many cases, it’s as easy as loading up an SUV and driving it to another state.
Officials say it will take a multipronged approach to combat black market sales. Allowing Oregon-grown cannabis to be sold in other states could relieve the pressure caused by the surplus, said Gary Bracelin, owner of Bend cannabis store Tokyo Starfish.
Many argue in favor of tightening regulations to prevent diversion, when cannabis grown in the regulated market finds its way on the black market.
Three recent criminal cases in Deschutes County underscore the rise of illegal growing and processing sites. One of the cases was even from a Oregon Liquor Control Commission sanctioned site.
In the most recent case, two Bend residents were charged with unlawful manufacture of marijuana and unlawful possession of marijuana for allegedly exporting cannabis products out of state. They are alleged to have used picture frames to hide cannabis to mail from a farm on Back Alley Road in Bend to Massachusetts. Law enforcement officials seized 93 mature marijuana plants and 55 immature plants, 5.8 pounds of dried marijuana and butane hash oil.
In another case, police charged two Crooked River Ranch residents with unlawful manufacturing of marijuana and charges related to allegedly running a butane hash oil operation used to produce a concentrate.
“We acknowledge there may be licensees conducting illegal activity, but it comes to light through anomalous activity in the cannabis tracking system, which is especially noticeable since our monitoring and detection has improved,” said Mark Pettinger, OLCC spokesman.
“Even before the High Cascade case surfaced, we were paying attention to the unusual ‘wasting’ activity and in some instances asking for video recordings to reconcile and do compliance checks,” Pettinger said.
With one cannabis growing site for every 25 users, Oregon has the ability to produce more than 2 million pounds of marijuana per year, far beyond what it can consume, leading law enforcement to believe that the surplus is contributing to diversion into the illegal market.
In addition, prices have fallen in the legal market from over $3,300 a pound to about $330 a pound, and cannabis businesses say some enterprising people are taking advantage of the lower prices and shipping product out of state, said Kindel, of the CODE team.
“What we’re seeing now is because it’s become lucrative to ship out of state, and Oregon has a reputation for quality cannabis,” Kindel said.
“Illegal grows are still at heart, illegal,” said Bracelin. “With the legal market and the glut, prices are so good for consumers to buy legal cannabis, I would guess the local black market is actually a pretty bad business model. Black market growers probably opt to ship out of state where they can get better prices. Illegal black market growers have been doing this for years.”
Bracelin said that regulated cannabis growers and retailers take a great risk diverting legally grown cannabis into the black market. They face license revocation and criminal charges by selling to the black market, he said.
“I’m not so naive to think this does not happen,” Bracelin said. “There will always be bad players.”
Lizette Coppinger, an owner of Cannabend, a Bend retail cannabis outlet, believes that legalizing the exportation of cannabis is important and could grow the cannabis industry. Legal exportation would enable growers to sell off the surplus to other states, Coppinger said. Allowing the export of legally grown cannabis to other states where pot is also legal could wipe out black market sales, she said. As of mid-2018, nine states and Washington, D.C, have legalized marijuana for recreational use for adults over the age of 21.
Said Bracelin: “Oregon is stifling its newest bounty crop and craft industry. While we fight over counties and state’s borders and federal acceptance, other countries are moving much faster and looking at international import/export markets.”
A byproduct of export would enable regulated shops, growers and processors to showcase the best Oregon growers have to offer. Products with high THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) content, unique terpenes and flavor all can be found at the corner retail outlet.
“There’s so much talent, and it’s a fun process,” Coppinger said. “You don’t get that in the black market. You don’t have any choices, just what the dealer offers.”
In Oregon the OLCC has taken steps to prevent the diversion of legally grown cannabis to the black market. This summer saw the start of Operation Good Harvest, a program that requires a growers to notify the OLCC when harvesting begins.
Nearly 70 inspections were done of outdoor grow sites, Pettinger said.
“We acknowledge there may be licensees conducting this type of illegal activity, but it comes to light through anomalous activity that comes through the cannabis tracking system, which is noticeable since our monitoring and detection has improved,” he said.
When growers identify plants as waste, they must take them off their inventory, report the waste to the OLCC, store the plants under video surveillance for three days and dispose of the plants by mixing the plants with yard debris, wood chips or sawdust and taking it to the landfill if composting is not feasible.
This summer also saw the transfer of 2,000 medical growing sites that grow for three or more patients in the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program to the regulator authority of the OLCC. Those growing sites must tag and register their plants in the cannabis tracking system.
Another step the OLCC took to tighten the system came in August when it began limiting the daily purchase amount for medical card holders to 1 ounce.
Previously, the limit was 24 ounces for medical card holders. The restriction lifts in six months.
“None of us have figured out where the point of diversion is occurring,” said Carol Yann, Oregon Medical Marijuana Program section manager. “The majority of our growers are growing for themselves. We want to get a handle on the diversion.”