Legal Landscape: Talking Shop with Perry Salzhauer of Green Light Law Group
Author – Jon Russell
Edited by Noah Persin
GreenSea’s Jon Russell had the chance to chat with Perry N. Salzhauer, one of the partners from the Green Light Law Group. Green Light based in Portland, Oregon serving the interests of the cannabis industry. With nearly 30 years combined legal experience and an in-depth operational knowledge of the cannabis industry, Green Light is uniquely positioned to provide experienced and knowledgeable legal services and counseling for new entrepreneurs, financiers, and established companies.
Jon – Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions of ours. Our readers are super curious about how the first month of official recreational cannabis sales has progressed and we at GreenSea certainly appreciate having some insight from the legal community. For those who may be unfamiliar with you and your business, please introduce yourself?
Perry – I am Perry N. Salzhauer, partner in Green Light Law Group, a full-service law firm focused on the needs and interests of the cannabis industry. I head our corporate and transactional practice, and I have practiced in this field in multiple jurisdictions for a little over 14 years. I also have an LL.M. (Master of Laws) in Environmental and Natural Resources law and lead most of my firm’s environmental and land-use practice.
Jon – What inspired you to put your law degree to work in the cannabis community?
Perry – In addition to developing my career as an attorney, I am, going back to my days as an undergraduate at The Evergreen State College, also a long-time activist on issues involving social justice, equity, and other important political economy matters. I had also been a medical marijuana grower here in Oregon for quite a few years when the industry began maturing towards a more structured market for cannabis and cannabis products. When Measure 91 passed, I found myself in a pretty exciting situation, but with a choice to either commit fully to going into the recreational cannabis production business with some of my former medical marijuana colleagues, or commit fully to practicing law in the cannabis space. Ultimately, I decided that I could help more people and do more for the industry by putting my unique combination of business and regulatory practice experience and cannabis industry knowledge to work as an attorney in the field.
Jon – Can you tell us about your clients experiences with the OLCC and the licensing process?
Perry – In all honesty, our clients haven’t had any bad experiences with the OLCC licensing process. All of the inspectors and rules specialists that we have worked with have been easy to work with and very professional. In our experience, the OLCC is really staying true to the promises they made during the listening tour about being a helpful partner in connection with licensing and the application process. On the other hand, I think that OLCC, the Department of Agriculture, and the Oregon Health Authority have made some really bad moves with respect to testing and testing protocols that have already done some significant damage to the industry, and OLCC’s cannabis tax revenue stream. I’m not sure if this is the forum to really dive into that issue, but I have heard from many of my colleagues who take a more active role in lobbying that some relief is on the way. Now, with respect to local licensing, it is a very different and varied story. I couldn’t say that the City of Portland, which has its own additional licensing process has been a very good partner to the industry, but again, I’m not sure there is enough space to discuss that here.
Jon – Have you seen an increase in those looking for cannabis legal consultation since, or possibly right before, Oct. 1, 2016?
Perry – Absolutely! We have been handling considerably more regulatory-based matters since the second half of September. In my experience, however, this phenomenon is not unique to the cannabis industry, but occurs to varying degrees in every regulated industry when new rules or programs are implemented. For example, lawyers in environmental practices see very similar trends in conjunction with implementation of new EPA standards related to air and water. In my own experience, I began my career shortly after the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley, and a large portion of my first year as an attorney involved explaining the Securities Exchange Commission’s new corporate transparency rules to corporate executives and boards of directors. I think that the important thing for industry participants to remember is that this happens in all regulated industries, and that they should not feel as if the cannabis industry is being singled out for stifling regulations. This is a new industry for the regulators and there will be some growing pains.
Jon – What advice would you give for someone looking to enter the recreational cannabis industry at this time?
Perry – The best advice that I could give someone looking to enter the recreational cannabis industry right now, and really the advice I would give anyone who is starting a business, is to put a lot of thought into your business plan, supply chain, and cost structure. I think that this market is only going to become more competitive as the Oregon market continues to develop and we see more states coming on-line with recreational or adult-use cannabis programs. Specifically, I advise clients to really think about what makes them and their products unique, and what would give them a competitive advantage in the market place. Having one or two products right now, even if those product are popular or market leaders, is not going to guarantee revenue for years to come. Business owners need to be continually building their brands, refining their processes, and investing in research and development for new products and delivery systems in order to stay relevant for the long haul. I have been saying for years that the future of this market lies in branded products and unique intellectual property, and in my opinion cannabis industry participants should really be focus their business planning on those two areas and how to expand their reach using them.
Jon – In your experience, is the cannabis industry more difficult to navigate than other, more established and accepted industries?
Perry – No; I don’t think there is too much difference at all. I can’t say it enough times that, other than being somewhat limited in terms of market reach because cannabis may not cross state lines, for the most part the challenges in the cannabis industry are the same as in in other industries. We have such a heavy system of regulation in the United States that you can’t really enter into any industry without having to navigate the regulations of some agency, or board, or what have you. That being said, there is a little more challenge to navigating the rules in this industry because they seem to change every few months, and can look like somewhat of a moving target; but we have to remember that this program is new and everyone, agencies, business owners, cannabis enthusiasts, are all learning together. I would also say, and without over-generalizing, that for many cannabis business owners, this is the first time that they have operated a business and had to deal with regulatory issues like permitting and compliance and there can be a steep learning curve.
Jon – Thank you for taking a moment to sit down and discuss cannabis law with us. We appreciate your time.
Perry – Thank you for the opportunity to be heard on these issues. I think that we are all looking forward to 2017, and are excited to see what Oregonians can do both financially and socially during the first full year of an open recreational cannabis market.
Editor’s Note: This was a written interview conducted over e-mail. None of the answers have been altered from the original response.