Story by Cheryl K. Smith
Chelsea Hopkins, age 28, has grown into adulthood in the cannabis industry. She started in 2009 making medibles from the cannabis that she and her husband grew in South Lake Tahoe, California, as a way to supplement her income at an environmental nonprofit.
According to Chelsea, dealing with dispensaries at that time—in an unregulated market—was difficult. Many of the dispensaries that did exist were both disorganized and unprofessional, as well as unwelcoming. As a woman and mother, Chelsea felt uncomfortable going into them, so her husband Joseph dealt with getting the product onto their shelves.
In 2010, after learning that Measure 74—an initiative that would legalize nonprofit dispensaries in Oregon—would be on the ballot, they made the decision to go there and start their own dispensary. Chelsea took the remainder of her college fund and along with her husband, his sister and her boyfriend, moved to Ashland, Oregon.
On April 20, 2010, they opened The Greenery, a nonprofit dispensary. At the time, dispensaries existed throughout Oregon, although in a “gray” area of the law. They took a risk, counting on the passage of Measure 74—which ultimately failed, with 56% of voters in opposition. They decided to continue, hoping for the best and believing that dispensaries would ultimately be legalized.
The Greenery at first had only limited consignments of product, which gradually increased as patient awareness grew. Chelsea served as an employee and the staff eventually grew to 10 people. While the focus of the dispensary was making medical cannabis available to patients in need, over the next year it became apparent that the partners in the endeavor had different visions. It was time for another move.
In 2013, Chelsea and Joseph resigned from the Greenery and moved to Eugene, Oregon. They had considered Bend, but realized that Eugene had fewer dispensaries so it would be a better option. The main dispensary—Kannabosm—had recently been raided by the police and closed down.
The first thing they did was hire a criminal defense attorney, because they knew they were entering a high-risk business. They next found a willing landlord and rented space to open The Greener Side. While start-up was again slow, with only 10 customers the first week, sales grew exponentially over time. After four months Chelsea hired two more employees and increased the operating hours. Then the worst happened.
On May 23, 2013, The Greener Side was raided by local Interagency Narcotics Enforcement Team and Chelsea and another employee were arrested for felony charges of delivering marijuana. The store was stripped of its products and it seemed that Chelsea’s dream may have ended.
Chelsea went on to spend only six-and-a-half hours in jail and her initial instincts served her well, as local cannabis defense attorney Brian Michaels was at the ready, noting that the authorities had “jumped the gun” with their bust. Ultimately that proved to be true because charges were dropped. The Greener Side regrouped, restocked and began serving patients again. Later that year the legislature passed HB 3460, which legalized dispensaries.
Like their first dispensary, the business at The Greener Side has grown and now supports 12 employees. Chelsea is responsible for day-to-day management, personnel, bookkeeping and supervision of staff. Joseph manages products and sales.
The biggest challenge she faces today include keeping up with the changing regulations—both statutes and administrative rules—as recreational cannabis legalization takes effect and the medical cannabis program is refined. Not only must Chelsea keep up on these changes, but she must communicate them to her staff so they know what they legally can and cannot do. She currently spends about 30% of her time in the dispensary and 70% outside, networking, attending meetings and legislative hearings and educating the public.
Other challenges she faces include:
• the inability to access normal banking, which requires that all transactions be done in cash, including payment of salaries, taxes and vendor reimbursement, greatly complicating accounting practices
• Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code, which forbids businesses from deducting certain business expenses from gross income associated with the “trafficking” of Schedule I or II substances, under the Controlled Substances Act. (For a good overview on this issue, see https://thecannabisindustry.org/uploads/2015-280E-White-Paper.pdf)
According to Chelsea, the positive aspects of the job far outweigh the negatives.
“Being able to wake up with a smile on my face and go to work” is very motivating. She started this work with the purpose of connecting patients with the medicine they need. Like many in the medical cannabis industry, Chelsea has been amazed at the positive effects medical cannabis can have on so many conditions.
She also loves being part of creating a whole new industry. And according to Chelsea, the people she interacts with—patients, associates and employees—could not be nicer or more genuine. There is a camaraderie among those working together to change hearts and minds and have a positive effect on the community.
Long advocates of giving to the community, The Greener Side holds an annual golf tournament, co-sponsored in the last two years by Southern Oregon Alternative Medicine, with all proceeds going to the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Portland.
Recently, Chelsea has gotten involved with Women Leaders in Cannabis, a fledgling organization that is local to the Willamette Valley. Their goal is to provide benefits for various causes. So far they have provided Thanksgiving dinners to 22 local families and held a Toy Drive to obtain donated toys for low-income families. In May, the organization held a Mother’s Day family event in partnership with Autism Rocks. Held at a local park, the event included hula-hooping, birdhouse-making, arts and crafts and music.
The industry continues to evolve, making for interesting times. Some of the changes Chelsea has seen so far include increased customer knowledge of cannabis and its effects, and innovation of products. As the industry matures, packaging has become more professional, producers are now isolating terpenes to appeal to different tastes and cannabinoids to provide different effects. Micro dosing of edibles is now becoming more common, as well.
Chelsea is excited to continue this learning adventure. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.
Cheryl K. Smith is a former attorney and has worked in the medical cannabis industry for almost a decade. She is now “retired” raising miniature dairy goats, writing, editing and serving on several nonprofit boards and chairing the Advisory Committee on Medical Marijuana (ACMM) for the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program.