News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Canyon Cannabis held up by OLCC

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

By Stephen Floyd

When voters overturned a ban on marijuana business in Mill City last year, Thorin Thacker believed he had a straightforward path to re-opening his dispensary that burned down in the 2020 wildfires.

Though the process to receive approval from the planning commission and city council was arduous, Thacker said his business, Canyon Cannabis, was treated like any other establishment.

Final approval from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) seemed certain, and would represent a win for the business’ employees and clients, the voters who overturned the ban, and a community still struggling to recover from the Labor Day fires.

So when OLCC called Thacker Tuesday morning to say his application may be held up indefinitely amid bureaucratic gridlock, Thacker was overcome.

“I’m a grown man, and I was in tears today when I heard that,” he said. “And it was when I was talking about my [co-workers]. I mean, they’ve given us so much and I just want to get them back to work.”

Adapting to adversity

Canyon Cannabis was established in 2016 after recreational marijuana was legalized in Oregon. Though Thacker lived in Mill City at the time, and was serving as its mayor, local voters approved a ban on recreational and medical marijuana businesses by 53 percent, obligating Thacker to open up shop in Gates.

Business boomed there, he said, providing living-wage jobs for his employees and a significant boost in tax revenue for the city. Before Canyon Cannabis burned down, Thacker expected to bring in $750,000 in revenue in 2020. 

This would have generated $127,500 in taxes for the state, and $22,500 for the city.

But the dispensary was a total loss in the fire, and Thacker said it was impractical to rebuild at the same location. The business had already acquired a storefront in Mill City with ambitions to someday expend, so Thacker made plans to re-open in his hometown.

Coming home again

This required overturning the 2016 ban When Thacker approached the city council with the idea they said it should go to the voters. 

During the Nov. 2, 2021, election, repeal of the ban passed with 59 percent support. Thacker said local attitudes likely changed after people saw first-hand that marijuana dispensaries weren’t that different from other businesses.

“I think the very legitimate fears that people had about cannabis were put to rest when they saw what our store is,” said Thacker. “Our store is no different from going to Dollar General: People walk in, they buy what they’re looking for, they get in their cars and go home.”

He said he was deeply grateful to the voters who supported the repeal, and said he hopes those who did not will see Canyon Cannabis prides itself on being a reputable establishment.

Crossing ‘t’s, dotting ‘i’s

The repeal became effective Jan. 1, and by the end of the month Thacker received the required business license and zoning variance form the city. 

On Feb. 7, he had everything he needed to submit to OLCC, and anticipated swift approval as he was just transferring his license to the new location.

But on Tuesday, Thacker found out OLCC had not even assigned his application to a case worker yet, and it may not be assigned for another month. From that point, there would be no telling when the case worker might get around to considering his application, given how few case workers are available for a large volume of applicants.

“We were under the impression we would be able to open right after we were ready,” he said. “There’s nothing else I can do to be more ready, except write letters pleading with the powers that be to please give some relief to these fire victims that lost as much as they did.”

Discouraged, but staying positive

Thacker said, even though he has gone without a paycheck the last year-and-a-half, and even though he has to pay bills on a storefront that is not generating revenue, his concerns are for his employees and customers. 

His workers are so tight-knit and supportive that Canyon Cannabis had no employee turnover the entire time it was open in Gates, while local customers now have to travel at least as far as Stayton for cannabis products, though many struggle with physical and psychological pain.

“It breaks my heart that so many of our local seniors, veterans and everybody else that just wants to use something legal in this state have such a hard time getting it,” said Thacker.

Despite setbacks, Thacker doesn’t speak ill of state regulators. He understands the bureaucratic process has been strained during the COVID-19 pandemic, and online reviews revealed he was not the only applicant struggling with delays. 

He said he simply hopes officials will understand the urgent need for a thriving business to return to a community still recovering from a major disaster.

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