Author – Jon Russell
Edited by Noah Persin
GreenSea’s Jon Russell had the chance to chat with Laura Rivero of Yerba Buena Farms Yerba Buena, one of the first OLCC licensed recreational cannabis farms in Oregon, located on 29 acres of lush, fertile land tucked into a serene valley at the base of Oregon’s coastal range.
Jon – Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. We’ve been curious about how the first month of official recreational cannabis sales has been going. For our readers who may be unfamiliar with you and your company, please introduce yourself.
Laura – My name is Laura Rivero, the Operations Manager of Yerba Buena, a recreationally licensed producer. Yerba Buena was among the very first recreational licenses to be awarded on April 29th, 2016. Since then, we have had the first (several) recreational harvests in the new system, the first business-to-business transfer to a testing laboratory, the first recreational sale to a retailer and have been setting standards across the board. As a Clean Green Certified cultivator, we value sustainability, diversity (over half of our staff is comprised of women) and are proud that everything we do is with the highest standards and intention.
Jon – It’s great to meet you Laura! Please tell us how you got into the cannabis industry?
Laura – I have been an advocate for the legalization of cannabis since I can remember. In Arizona, when medical marijuana passed, there was a period of time prior to dispensaries opening that caregiver cooperatives were legal. A friend had an idea to launch one and needed organizational support and reached out to me to partner with him, which I gladly did.
We operated Grassroots Wellness Center for nearly two years, before the lottery for dispensaries was conducted and our number was sadly not picked. With the new rules in place, we could no longer operate our collective, so closed the doors. Before even a week had passed, I had several dispensary manager positions on the table and I accepted the one most aligned with my values, where I built a successful business from the ground up for nearly three years. My husband, a talented and reputable grower and system designer was brought onto the cultivation team, and quickly gained the reputation as having the best dispensary with the best quality flower in the state. Word spread about our endeavors and reached Oregon and we received a call from a few entrepreneurs in Portland who were searching nationwide for talent.
With Arizona being one of the most highly regulated seed-to-sale programs in the country, this was a thoughtful choice as Oregon was about to enter into a similarly regulated program through its recreational rules. After much thought and vetting, we determined that these folks were like-minded and wanted to set consummate standards for the industry, something that is so important to us. It was then that Yerba Buena was born, and we have grown from a staff of 4 to 30 in just one year.
Jon – What a journey! Well Oregon is glad to have you and your family. What roles have you seen cannabis play in yours or others that you know lives up to now?
Laura – Cannabis has played many roles in my life. I have seen grown men cry after receiving their first full night of sleep, I have seen pain patients go off of their opioid medications by replacing them with cannabis, and have seen tumors disappear. I have watched children with epilepsy seizures stop miraculously, Parkinson shakes subside, and a myriad of other medicinal success stories. Cannabis has supported me and my family financially, offered healing and symptomatic relief, and has changed the lives of so many people who have tried it on my recommendation. I am so grateful for the leadership role I have been given in this life to help pioneer this industry so that more people can experience the magic of this plant and shift the unfounded stigma that still shrouds it’s benefits.
Jon – Your story is very inspiring, thanks again for sharing! Congratulations on receiving your OLCC license! Can you give us an insight on the application process?
Laura – It was very in-depth. From the operations and procedural standpoint, the process was thorough but not unreasonable. This is information any viable and reputable business should have. How many businesses begin without a business plan? It’s good to have all of your documents in order and a well-thought out plan in place. Some of the security requirements were onerous, but the OLCC made adjustments to make them work for us and we were able to meet and exceed all requirements.
Jon – Sound advice for anyone starting a business! Sounds like your experience with the OLCC was a positive one. Since getting your license have you had any issues with testing or packaging requirements?
Laura – Not on our side. Some of the extractors have had a difficult time affording the process validation requirements which is understandable. It seems like many of them are sorting it out and moving forward, so things are starting move along more seamlessly.
Jon – How’s the competition so far? Have you seen a lot of other licensees out there in the same boat as you are?
Laura – We had a large inventory prepared for October 1st early retail licensees since we had been accumulating product since our first harvest in July. It seemed like there were not a large number of other licensed producers with product ready, so we felt prepared and excited for customers to finally sell our product to.
Jon – That’s great! We’ve heard that there wasn’t a whole lot of product available on the recreational market yet but it sounds like you really prepared! Have things began to smooth or are you still feeling the pinch of lab and licensing bottlenecks?
Laura – We have been blessed not to experience any lab or licensing bottlenecks. The biggest bottleneck for us was the accumulation of product with no licensees to sell to until October. We worked hard to lengthen our cure process to keep product fresh until retailers came on line. Now we have sold the vast majority of our back stock and our systems are regulating and smoothing out now that the outflux of product is done.
Jon – Have there been any difficulties you’ve experienced currently in the Oregon cannabis industry?
Laura – With a lack of recreational concentrates and edibles, retailers are hesitating to activate their licenses, which has created a smaller market to sell to. We have been able to find a home for our product without too much difficulty, but we look forward to the roll out of a full, diverse and varied market for the consumers.
Jon – What’s your prediction for the cannabis industry going into January 2017? Do you feel the OLCC will make the industry stronger or weaker?
Laura – The OLCC has been incredible. They have listened and responded to the needs of the industry. Although as would be expected with the roll out of an entirely new industry, there have been some kinks, but the OLCC has been ready to revise where needed and has been supportive and understanding. The industry in Oregon is becoming stronger, and the OLCC is helping it to become a more legitimate and regulated system that will be exemplary for other states as this movement progresses across the nation.
Jon – I like hearing positive feedback regarding the OLCC, they always seem to have a lot of pushback against them. So, with OLCC came METRC. Has the METRC system affected your internal processes at all? If so, has METRC made your processes more organized and easier or more difficult?
Laura – Absolutely, the METRC system has affected our processes. We have internal compliance officers in each area and our processes include outlined procedures for maintaining compliance at every step, ensuring that we are above and beyond the expectations of the OLCC. It has made us more organized and has made transfers much easier.
Jon – Laura, I want to thank you for taking the time to speak with us at GreenSea. We appreciate your insights and it was exciting to see how you’ve been doing in this new industry! We look forward to seeing more from Yerba Buena Farms! Have a wonderful day!
Laura – My pleasure!