Chain Reaction: CannaBliss & Co.

From Farmer’s Market to Five Stores

With nearly 600 current stores and another 981 applications in the pipeline, Oregon’s retail cannabis environment is one of the most diverse and competitive in the country, due in part to the lack of a cap on licenses, a longstanding medical program and regulations that allow for out-of-state ownership and investment. Portland alone has a citywide average of more than one store per square mile.

But even in a market as difficult and crowded as Oregon’s, several chains have established themselves as market leaders, cutting through the noise to achieve dominance in the retail category.

While the vast majority of Oregon cannabis companies have only a small handful of stores, there are 11 that have five or more retail licenses. Though they come from vastly different backgrounds and built their businesses through elaborate designs, pervasive marketing, aggressive expansion or smart buying decisions, all are doing something to resonate with consumers in the Beaver State.

Marijuana Venture checked in with some of the largest chains in the state to see how they rose to the top and what they have planned for the future.

From a small, discreet farmers market, Cannabliss & Co. has grown to a retail chain of five stores across Oregon, embedding each location into its surrounding community.

According to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission 11 businesses have more than five retail licenses in the state. Marijuana Venture reached out to all 11 and profiled the businesses available to participate in the feature article.

Nectar

Classy, competitive and the largest vertically integrated retail chain in Oregon.

No. of retail licenses: 14

LaMota

Vertically integrated with large selection and competitive prices.

No. of retail licenses: 10

Hi Cascade

Wide variety of local products in a traditional dispensary setting.

No. of retail licenses: 8

Chalice Farms

Vertically integrated with rustic, traditional retail shopping experience.

No. of retail licenses: 6

Electric Lettuce/Serra

Beautifully designed, offering experiential retro and posh shopping atmospheres.

No. of retail licenses: 4/2

Five Zero Trees

Vertically integrated, Oregon-centric, celebrates local cannabis culture.

No. of retail licenses: 6

Sweet Relief

Northeastern Oregon chain with a small-town and homespun feel.

No. of retail licenses: 5

Attis Trading Co.

Western-themed, apothecary with plans for national expansion.

No. of retail licenses: 5

Cannabliss & Co.

Longstanding medical roots with historic and community-centric locations.

No. of retail licenses: 5

West

Oregon’s newest dispensary chain opened in 2018 with five retail licenses.

No. of retail licenses: 5

Mr. Nice Guy

Colorful atmosphere with a variety of unique, cozy locations.

No. of retail licenses: 5

Owner Matt Price started Cannabliss in January 2011, but the company didn’t technically sell any cannabis for its first two years (or file taxes with the IRS until 2014 — see editor’s note). Instead, the business rented out space to medical marijuana growers, and patients paid an entry fee and made “donations” to the cultivators in exchange for cannabis.

“We made our money by providing a space that was safe for people to go and get their medication,” Price says. “Once the dispensary laws came into place (in 2013) the farmer’s market business model was outlawed and we went into a traditional dispensary.”

While the business model might have been traditional, Cannabliss’ first dispensary was far from it. Price opened shop in an 1891 fire station, a building on the national registry for historic places, complete with a fireman’s pole through the sales floor and the original “Engine No. 23” emblem from the Portland Fire Department on the façade.

The Cannabliss “Sorority House” in Eugene is also a registered historic place; the chain’s other three locations are in walking distance of public parks and historic attractions.

“A lot of places want to go cookie-cutter and do the Apple model, whereas we really pride ourselves on building a business model that fits with each of our communities,” Price says. “We adapt everything we do, from a marketing side, to cater to our actual neighborhoods as opposed to trying to do blanket marketing.”

While employee turnover has plagued other cannabis businesses, Cannabliss combats this by offering health insurance to full-time employees.

“I think the biggest milestone the business reached was being able to provide health care for our staff,” Price says. “In doing so, we were able to change working for our company from a job to a career. We are a very employee-driven company and believe that treating that as a family is the best way to go.”

Editor’s note: In mid-September, just a few days before this issue of Marijuana Venture was printed, multiple news outlets reported that Cannabliss co-owner Matt Price was sentenced to seven months in federal prison for misdemeanor tax crimes. Price pleaded guilty to four counts of willfully failing to file tax returns on nearly $1 million in income, according to The Oregonian newspaper.

The prosecutor said it was the country’s first federal sentencing of a legal marijuana business owner for tax crimes. At the time of this writing the Oregon Liquor Control Commission is still determining if the violations merit revoking Price’s marijuana retail licenses.

Cannabliss employees told Marijuana Venture that the retail stores will remain open.

Marijuana Venture staff debated whether to publish this story or remove it from the issue. Ultimately, we decided to keep it in this magazine, with the addition of the latest news, as it serves a cautionary tale about the importance of paying taxes and how much a business owner stands to lose by failing to comply with applicable state and federal laws. 

 

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