The RoseBud Wellness Center blends comfortably into the scenery in Portland’s hip Irvington neighborhood. Its interior is bright and sterile, with good natural light and not even a trace of illicit odors in the air. All around are the signs of a shop that is in compliance with registry rules ahead of schedule, right down to security cameras and a secure area for storing the shop’s stash of medical marijuana. Behind the counter, T-shirts emblazoned with the RoseBud logo hang above a refrigerator stocked with bottled water.
“We’re a boutique shop, and we specialize in a range of high-end, laboratory-tested cannabis products,” says Sean Wilson, the shop’s co-owner and manager. “We opened three months ago, and so far we’ve had about 600 unique patients walk through our door.”
The marijuana Wilson is selling to those customers isn’t coming from Oregon’s banana belt but from laboratories and sophisticated urban indoor-growing operations. Among the most popular strains they sell is the notoriously powerful “Girl Scout Cookie,” which costs upwards of $3,000 per pound.
The dozens of strains sold at RoseBud have all been tested, and Wilson can tell customers what kind of high they are going to experience even before they lay their money down. Because the new registry rules require all of Oregon’s medical marijuana to be laboratory tested, designer strains and customizable highs are going to be in demand — and at premium prices.
This is exactly the kind of niche, upper-tier market Wilson wants to cultivate. His business plan revolves around providing customers with detailed information on the THC and CBD content of the cannabis they buy. High levels of THC, he says, produce the high commonly associated with marijuana use, while high levels of CBD produce a different medicinal effect. “The CBD actually treats the pain, while the THC distracts you from the pain,” says Wilson. “In addition to being required under the new regulations, testing helps people get what they need to manage their condition.”
Just down the street from Wilson’s shop is Rose City Laboratories, one of the places local dispensaries can bring their product to have it tested and certified. It’s just one example of the cottage industry that is springing up around the new dispensary registry and may prove to be the most profitable area of investment. One lab owner said that he expected to pull in upwards of $12 million in revenue annually once the new regulations go into effect.
The labs are also where so-called “medibles” — edible marijuana products — can be tested to determine how the cooking process has affected THC content. Medibles, according to Wilson, account for about one-third of all the medical marijuana sold to patients at RoseBud Wellness Center. Companies like Auntie Dolores specialize in preparing and marketing these cannabis-laced foods, which include products like chocolate-fudge cake, brownies, chili-lime peanuts, savory pretzels and caramel corn.
It all fits what Wilson calls the “boutique” nature of Portland’s dispensary scene, with its abundance of niche markets stimulating job creation and entrepreneurship and where applications for business licenses related to the industry are on the rise, according to a city clerk. In rural Oregon communities, by contrast, “there have been a lot of efforts to stop the registry, and to prevent dispensaries from opening up shop,” says Karynn Fish, a public information officer with the Oregon Health Authority.