Ambassador of Happiness wasn’t just a nickname, or some informal moniker used around his inner circle of close friends and colleagues, but rather it was the official and legal title for Joel Matthew Fischer, a co-owner of Oregon-based East Fork Cultivars. For IRS purposes, he was literally the company’s Ambassador of Happiness.
Along with his fellow co-owners – Nathan Howard, Aaron Howard and Mason Walker – Fischer was part of a quartet known as the East Dorks on East Fork Ranch in Takilma, about 40 miles southeast of Medford, where their cannabis and hemp business launched in 2015. They own about 40,000 square feet of canopy along with 12 acres of craft hemp.
Also a licensed realtor, real estate investor and personal finance coach, Fischer died unexpectedly Jan. 8, at age 37, leaving his East Fork family devastated. Fischer is survived by his wife, Tricia Chin, mother, Terry Fischer, and brothers Mike Fischer and Dave Fischer.
“His death has broken me,” Nathan Howard said in a post on social media. “When I’m able to put myself back together, I hope to do so with his spirit, love and approach to life as guideposts.”
Howard described Fischer as a “magical” person who went through life with “surreal zest” and passion that is legendary among his friends and family.
Fischer, who grew up in Portland, built and developed an ability to impact those around him through his belief that people are capable of so much more than they think.
“There’s room for everyone to be further empowered in their lives, and they really just need a mentor,” Howard said of Fischer’s ideology. “So, a cornerstone to Joel’s approach to everything was that if people believed they can do it, they can. And if people have been traumatized or beaten down or bullied or told by others that they can’t do it, it’s the worst thing if they internalize that, because that makes it all the more likely that they won’t change their lives or do what they want to do.”
In addition to empowering others to follow their passions, Fischer was big on giving away small gifts, like organic lavender that he’d buy in bulk and put in small, blue vials to keep in his pocket and hand out to people he’d meet for the first time.
Not to mention, Fischer would often help counsel others for free, whether it came to buying a house or just financial planning in general. His generosity earned him the nickname, “Patron Saint of East Fork Cultivars.”
“It was small and big stuff,” Howard said. “But the Ambassador of Happiness title was really about helping other people find more happiness in their lives.”
According to his obituary, Fischer made a point of making those around him feel loved. He was always up for an adventure and spent much of the last few years traveling the world. His presence in Oregon’s cannabis community, and in his own community, was extensive.
“The impact he’s had on people across Oregon and the world is spectacular,” Howard said. “And [it’s] only becoming more clear in his death. His accomplishments, personal and professional, are similarly striking.”
Nathan and Aaron Howard also experienced the grief of losing a loved one when their other brother, Wesley Howard, died in 2017 from complications associated with a severe case of neurofibromatosis, a genetic condition that causes tumors to form on nerve tissue such as the brain, spinal column and nerves.
Wesley’s condition is what sparked the Howards to start growing medical cannabis at their southern Oregon home, a former llama breeding ranch, in an effort to help their brother manage his pain and other ailments.
When his brother Wesley died, Nathan Howard said Fischer was there for him.
“Joel and I were together at a business meeting, working to build what’s become East Fork, when I got the call that my older brother Wesley had suddenly passed away,” Howard said. “Joel drove me to Wesley’s apartment, hugged me, stayed with me while saying goodbye to his body, and helped my family make all the post-death arrangements that we’re now making for Joel. He shared essential wisdom he had gained after losing his father far too soon.”
But Fischer didn’t leave behind just his tight-knit community of about 25 co-workers at East Fork Cultivars. On a memorial website created for Fischer, those who knew him from all walks of life shared their condolences and memories.
Before joining East Fork, Fischer, who earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Oregon State University, spent 12 years working in Oregon politics. Oregon state Sen. Sara Gelser and former Oregon House Speaker Dave Hunt paid tribute to Fischer with their testimonials.
“My heart is broken,” Sen. Gelser said. “I began working with Joel early, early, early in my legislative career. He was always so bright and funny and cheerful and flexible and charismatic. To all who were lucky to have him be part of your regular life, please know how deeply admired he is, how loved he is and that you are wrapped in love in this time of sorrow.”
Hunt wrote on Fischer’s memorial page that they both grew up as sons of American Baptist preachers, but they really got to know each other when Fischer started his political journey on former state Rep. Chris Edwards’ legislative campaign in 2006 in Eugene.
“Although Joel and Chris were both proud Beavers, it was fun to watch him hide his ‘colors’ and find success in the heart of Duck country,” Hunt said about Fischer being an Oregon State graduate working in the same city as the University of Oregon. “His successful journey then continued in and outside the [Oregon] Capitol. He demonstrated his ultimate commitment to equity and justice at [Oregon Business Industry] in 2018.”
Hunt continued and said, “Joel and I both lost our fathers about 15 years ago. We shared many conversations since then about how much we missed our dads and struggled with their premature deaths. May God bring comfort to Joel’s wife, mom Terry Sue, family and friends during these tragic days.”
Early on in Fischer’s political career, he was the policy adviser for current Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, whom he helped redesign the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program – which is designated to help low-income families with children achieve economic self-sufficiency – and guide it through the political process, according to Fischer’s LinkedIn page.
When it came to cannabis legislation, Howard said Fischer was involved in the work that led to the passing of Ballot Measure 91, which legalized adult-use cannabis in the state in 2014.
Oregon state Sen. Michael Dembrow, whose district Fischer resided in for a long time, will be introducing a bill in the upcoming legislative session to honor Fischer’s memory, legacy and all of his political contributions on the floor of the upper chamber, Sen. Dembrow confirmed. “Joel was a great guy, much loved and respected by those he worked with at the [Oregon] Capitol,” Sen. Dembrow said.
While Fischer’s political impact extended to all corners of the state, back on the ranch at East Fork is where he found his favorite original cultivar – sour pineapple. Mentally, Fischer said in his company bio that it picked him up when he was down and settled him down when he was up. Physically, he said it is excellent for post-workout recovery and general relief. Those who also enjoy East Fork’s sour pineapple can do so with a connection to Fischer.
Since last Friday, Howard said he’s spent a lot of time with Fischer’s family and friends at Fischer’s home trying to wrap their minds around the fact that he’s gone.
“We spoke most days for the past five years,” Howard said. “Many of my favorite memories from recent life are with Joel. We didn’t say goodbye to each other when we were done hanging out or hopping off the phone – we said, 'I love you.'”
Editor's Note: This story was updated Jan. 15 with a correction. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated hemp that tests above 1% THC will not be considered a negligent violation.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has published its final rule on hemp, signaling what may be the start of an era of stability for an industry that has been in near-constant flux since its legalization in 2018—that is, if the new incoming administration decides to keep the regulations.
The final rule is set to take effect March 22 and replace the USDA’s interim final rule (IFR) on hemp, which was published Oct. 31, 2019.
“With the publication of this final rule, USDA brings to a close a full and transparent rule-making process that started with a hemp listening session in March 2019,” said USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs Under Secretary Greg Ibach in a statement. “USDA staff have taken the information you have provided through three comment periods and from your experiences over a growing season to develop regulations that meet Congressional intent while providing a fair, consistent, science-based process for states, tribes and individual producers. USDA staff will continue to conduct education and outreach to help industry achieve compliance with the requirements.”
The rule’s 300 pages outline licensing requirements, recordkeeping requirements, procedures for testing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentrations, procedures for disposing of non-compliant plants and more.
The THC limit for hemp remains at 0.3% despite at least hundreds—if not thousands—of comments on the IFR, as well as efforts by industry organizations, urging an increase to 1%. (Just one day prior to the USDA releasing its final rule, Kentucky lawmakers introduced a bill that would increase the allowable amount of THC in hemp to 1% in the state.)
However, Shawn Hauser, partner and chair of the Hemp and Cannabinoids Department at Vicente Sederberg LLP, says a number of improvements were made in the final rule based upon feedback received on the IFR during two separate comment periods. These include:
“The transition from prohibition to a legal and regulated system takes time, and USDA’s final rule is a historic step forward for hemp in the U.S.,” Hauser says in a statement. “…We are undoubtedly making progress, and we will continue to work with regulators and through Congress to perfect the regulatory structure for hemp.”
In 2020, the USDA announced the delay of some requirements outlined in the IFR, including the requirement for labs to be registered by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the requirement that producers use DEA-registered law enforcement to dispose of non-compliant plants. Those delays have been further extended under the final rule until December 2022.
States operating under the 2014 Farm Bill will continue to be allowed to do so until Jan. 1, 2022.
Is the Final Rule Final?
Larry Farnsworth, spokesperson for the National Industrial Hemp Council (NIHC), says the organization is “pleased USDA has finally released their long-awaited rule on U.S. domestic hemp production and glad they listened to the concerns of the industry regarding sampling and testing.”
However, with President-Elect Joe Biden’s inauguration set for Jan. 20, Farnsworth predicts that the final rule may not be the end-all for federal hemp regulations.
“We anticipate, as is customary of new administrations, that this rule will be one of many that will be frozen on the first day of the Biden Administration,” Farnsworth tells Hemp Grower. “We look forward to working through these issues with the incoming Biden Administration and have all of this year to get it right before the 2014 authorities sunset.”
ECO Cannabis is operating not only for itself, but for people living in Oakland, Calif., who have been impacted by cannabis prohibition.
The vertically integrated company runs an incubation program for social equity dispensary and delivery businesses in East Oakland and purchases 50% of its product from social equity companies. Out of eight companies that ECO has been incubating, six of them have graduated. ECO also promotes diverse hiring and hires people who have been affected by the war on drugs.
Launched in January 2019, ECO has cultivation, manufacturing and retail operations. The company cultivates cannabis crops at a facility dubbed Mossrock and manufactures at another it calls Rubberrock. The two facilities, both in East Oakland, total 90,000 square feet. Its storefront is located at Telegraph Avenue in Oakland.
ECO’s employment is diverse both in terms of who works there and what they do. For instance, the company hires and promotes people who were previously incarcerated, which helps those individuals reintegrate into society, ECO CEO Kevin Ahaesy said in an email.
Adhering to an organizational structure and culture that aids those affected by cannabis prohibition goes a long way, Ahaesy said. “For example, to develop, manage and facilitate initiatives around diversity, equity inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) both internally and externally in a way that improves recruitment, hiring, retention, organizational culture, promotion, and progression for … employees … can make a remarkably positive impact on those employees’ work and life experience.”
Roughly 35 of ECO’s employees work in cultivation and manufacturing, and about 15 work in retail, Ahaesy said. When looking for employees, he said, ECO partners with “job programs that cater to those who have been formerly incarcerated and/or affected by the war on drugs. In all of our job postings we also strongly encourage those individuals, Black, Brown, indigenous, people of color, women, and LGBTQIA folks to apply.”
Employees work to produce and sell popular strains such as Airheads, Space Nugs (Airheads flower covered in kief of the same strain) and Town Gas, said ECO Executive Assistant Anna Walia.
As Walia pointed out, the city of Oakland received more than $6.5 million in grant funding from California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control and Governor's Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) for its cannabis equity program.
“That funding covers the cost of licensing fees that equity applicants do not have to pay in the city of Oakland,” she said.
RELATED: Need to Know: State Dollars Help Sacramento Build Equity Program
Half of Oakland’s cannabis businesses must be issued to equity applicants, according to the city’s municipal code. In addition to meeting an Oakland residency requirement, these applicants must meet certain income criteria and have either lived in at least one of 21 designated Oakland Police Department beats for 10 of the past 20 years or been “convicted of a cannabis crime committed in Oakland” since Nov. 5, 1996.
ECO sponsors these cannabis companies and also “maintains that 50% of its employees are formerly incarcerated and given the opportunity to thrive in the industry,” Walia said.
The company hires “exceptional talent with a reputation for excelling in their field,” said Amber Buchanan, chief operating officer. “We then support this talent by ensuring they have all the tools for success, including custom built facilities with full sensor-based monitoring of environmentals for precision agriculture, state-of-the-art LED lighting, automated fertigation systems, and advanced closed loop extraction equipment. The safety of our consumers and employees is our top priority and our facilities are sanitized from top to bottom daily with hospital grade protocol.”
Working with ECO, incubated companies have found increased success. Olando Graves, owner of My Natural Solutions, a cannabis distribution and delivery company, has been involved in Oakland’s equity program for the past 10 months. Graves was quoted in a blog post on ECO’s website, saying, “The program assisted in my ability to obtain a cannabis license and start a business.”
Furthermore, Graves said in the blog that Ahaesy “showed true sincerity in assisting and working with” him and other social equity applicants, unlike “sharks” who had approached him.
In addition, ECO has sold wholesale product to My Natural Solutions, Buchanan said.
The grant funding from BCC and GO-Biz has been a boon for the incubator program, allowing ECO “to continue to fulfill its mission in supporting marginalized and oppressed people who deserve a chance to grow in the industry with us,” Ahaesy said.
Ahaesy added that “industry, policymakers and other stakeholders” can all play a role in breaking down barriers to entry and success for Black, Brown, indigenous and people of color (BBIPOC). In addition, he said, “The industry can raise its standards in practicing diverse hiring strategies. Representation in [media and social media] also matters to folks, especially to marginalized and oppressed groups.”
“[Providing] more training programs that are cannabis management-specific for those who have had no formal education and/or training would be a valuable resource for BBIPOC in the cannabis industry,” Ahaesy said. “Making cannabis legislation more accessible and understandable for those same individuals such that they feel empowered in their cannabis careers would be another step in the right direction.”
Buchanan highlighted some developments that are on the horizon at ECO. “We are currently expanding the number of grow rooms on our main campus [Mossrock], launching a new line of manufactured products under the brand ‘Oak Town Labs,’ re-inventing our ‘Dankfoot’ brand to focus on infused products, and developing a line of health and beauty products which will be known as ‘Higher Self,’” she said.
“幸福大使”并不是一个绰号，也不是他身边密友和同事的非正式称呼，而是乔尔·马修·费舍尔的官方和合法头衔，他是俄勒冈州East Fork Cultirars的共同拥有者。对国税局来说，他简直就是公司的幸福大使。
在加入东福克大学之前，在俄勒冈州立大学获得政治学学士学位的费舍尔在俄勒冈政界工作了12年。俄勒冈州参议员Sara Gelser和前俄勒冈州众议院议长Dave Hunt用他们的感言向菲舍尔致敬。
然而，Vicente Sederberg LLP大麻和大麻素部门合伙人兼主席肖恩·豪泽表示，根据在两个不同的评论期内收到的关于IFR的反馈，最终规则做出了一些改进。这些措施包括:
通过与ECO合作，孵化的公司取得了越来越多的成功。Olando Graves是一家大麻分销和运送公司My Natural Solutions的所有者，他在过去10个月里一直参与奥克兰的股权计划。在ECOS网站的一篇博文中引用了格雷夫斯的话，他说，这个项目帮助了我获得大麻许可证和创业的能力。
布坎南强调了经济合作组织即将出现的一些事态发展。她说:“我们目前正在扩大主校区（Mossrock）的种植室数量，推出一系列新的制成品，品牌为Oak Town Labs，重新发明我们的DankFooth品牌，专注于灌装产品，并开发一系列健康和美容产品，名为Higher Self.”