Paul Pedreira is owner of Portland Best Buds, a premium cannabis dispensary located in the St. Johns neighborhood of Portland, Oregon.
Portland Best Buds originally launched in the summer of 2015. The dispensary, however, has faced a lion’s share of the regulatory harassment that has become all-too-familiar among cannabis startups and entrepreneurs. Portland Best Buds was forced to uproot from its first location and spent a series of time facing a government shutdown as Paul scrambled frantically to maintain his little cannabis foothold in North Portland.
Ganjapreneur recently caught up with Paul to discuss the many issues and obstacles he’s faced since leaving the film and television industry and launching his new career offering compassionate cannabis care as a medical cannabis entrepreneur. Read the full interview below:
Ganjapreneur: What were the reasons behind your transition from television and film into the cannabis industry?
Paul Pedreira: Portland Best Buds is a new venture for me after working in television and film for 25 years. The decision was pretty easy on two levels: first, I have seen cannabis help people with a range of medical problems from cancer to epilepsy. I have witnessed numerous people get off opiates because of cannabis. Second, it seemed like a good business decision because as a first time business owner I knew the playing field was relatively even, as opposed to going into another business where the players were much more experienced than me.
How long was it before you started running into problems?
That’s the downside of dealing with such a cutting edge industry: the government. There are so many problems on the local and federal level I don’t know where to start, except to tell my own story about how the Oregon Health Authority and the city of Portland almost took everything away from me after I put my life savings into this business.
Back in July 2015 I was awarded a license from the state to sell medicinal cannabis. I purchased a property in St. John’s after the state confirmed the location was approved.
Well after the approval the city demanded I prove that my building was commercially zoned by providing 50 years of proof every 3 years that there was a grocery store there. I had a full-time job working on the Grimm TV Series at the time, so I had someone go to the library and research the entire history of the grocery store and make copies of the materials — after completing that task, we found out the city had the records the whole time. Very strange. Although it wasn’t exactly a hardship to do research for the city, I found it strange and somewhat abusive that they demanded I track down information they already had in their system, by their own admission.
What I later found out is I had a neighbor vehemently against a cannabis shop, even though they were okay with a bodega selling crack pipes and alcohol. All of a sudden there were permit issues, fines, and the city began corresponding with OHA, trying to revoke my license.
Why the sudden change of attitude by regulators?
My building was grandfathered in as a commercial building because it was a grocery store since the 1950s, and the state had approved the location, so I thought I was safe.
But the state sent a letter stating my application was denied — two months after I was in business! It was as if the approval never happened. Zoning issues were a bit vague in the early rules of OHA, but my building had been clearly zoned for retail (and still is). But one call from a neighbor changed all that because they suddenly had a stance of “we don’t want dispensaries in neighborhoods.”
So the state turned 180 degrees on your business two months after it opened — what do you do about that?
It was either lose everything or fight, so I hired a law firm and they pointed out to the state that you cannot just revoke a license without an appeal process, and, long story short, I was able to find a new location in the same neighborhood. On Thanksgiving Day of 2015 I moved my company to 6313 N Lombard, and the rest is history. Since then, a New Seasons has opened up directly across the street, our sales quadrupled and we found a home right around the corner from the old shop. I never thought I would have to say this but my lawyers saved Best Buds.
Ultimately, a happy ending for you! But at a high price nonetheless — why do you think you faced so much over-regulation?
I think many small businesses have been ruined by government, especially cannabis related. We get emails from the state everyday that contain new rules and laws. Each time that happens a small business is affected financially: you have to hire more people, and services, just to stay compliant.
Then we have the feds: without a federal rescheduling, we can’t do normal banking and we can’t take normal business deductions on the federal level. Our current AG is against legalizing, and with senators like Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) leading the charge against legalization, who knows what is next.
Despite these problems, I am so grateful and excited to be on the cutting edge of progress and although government is hurting the cause, cannabis will prevail as both medicine and recreation… my shop is now a St. John’s institution, with a First Thursday event every month, and my staff is a huge part of our success.
How much of your business would you estimate comes from recreational vs. medicinal sales, and do you have plans to pursue a recreational license?
Our success will depend on a rec license however if the state abandons the medical program, Best Buds will continue to serve the medical community with premium products at a steep discount. They are the reason I’m in this business.
How many staff members are there at the Best Buds store?
We currently have 4 full time, Lisa Miller, Michael Kinney, Nick Kinney, and Jared Conley. Without them I couldn’t function! If you read our reviews on Leafly, they’re all about great service, support, and product. This is why a corporate big box cannot compete with us: this is a very customer interaction-based business so the typical corrupt corporate greed model won’t work. What you need is small, nimble mom and pop like boutique stores that address each customer’s unique needs.
Where do you see Portland Best Buds in 5 years?
That’s a great question. Profits are not our only goal. St Johns is my home and it is transforming everyday. I want Best Buds to be a vibrant part of the community because if you don’t give back, then why go through the trouble? I’m planning to start a charitable trust with an emphasis on education. Perhaps there will be a Best Buds 2, but that’s a ways off. Our First Thursday events are extremely important to us in that we can spend quality time with our customers and connect with emerging artists.
Given your long dedication to the film industry, and the amount of regulatory resistance you’ve faced since entering legal cannabis, do you ever sometimes regret taking that leap and becoming a ganjapreneur?
Never. No regrets. I was protected from government in my former career; now I am on the front lines, but I feel this work is more important and vital to society, and I love being at the tip of the spear. Government can make things very difficult, but the genie is out of the bottle and there is no stopping us now.
If you could offer one piece of advice to someone considering their own cannabis company, what would you say?
First I would highly advise retaining a good cannabis attorney. The government is running the show and they change the rules quite frequently, not to mention the ongoing problem with the Feds.
Thanks Paul for answering our questions and sharing your story of perseverance with our community. To learn more about Portland Best Buds, visit their website at PortlandBestBuds.com or stop by for a visit at 6313 N Lombard, Portland OR.