East of Weeden

Eugene cannabis entrepreneur expands to Massachusetts and Illinois

Founded in Eugene in 2017, Elev8 Cannabis is expanding its business on a small and large scale. 

Elev8 is moving from its original spot in a secluded location on 12th Avenue to a busy street corner on Oak Street. On a larger scale, however, Elev8 is expanding to Massachusetts and Illinois.

Seun Adedeji, CEO and founder of Elev8, says he started the company when he spotted an opportunity to create a customer-centered business model in the Eugene cannabis industry.

While today he leads a successful cannabis company, Adedeji’s relationship with pot did not start well. 

In middle school, Adedeji was arrested for possession of marijuana. He lived in Chicago with his parents before this happened, and when he was then released, he moved to Texas to live with his aunt.

Adedeji is African American, and according to a 2013 American Civil Liberties Union study, African Americans are 3.73 times more likely than other Americans to be arrested for marijuana possession. 

Elev8, as a result, is very inclusive towards minorities and focused on social equity, says Jordan VanOvereem, chief operating officer and manager of the Eugene branch. She says that this commitment to inclusiveness in an overwhelmingly white industry is what attracted her to work at Elev8. Adedeji, VanOvereem and the chief financial officer are minorities.

In 2016, Adedeji moved to Oregon and decided to open Elev8, but he struggled to find a place to open a store. After two years of being denied leases, he says that he finally got the opportunity to lease a house from his then-landlord on 12th Avenue.

When Elev8 opened in 2017, the market wasn’t as saturated, Adedeji says. He also says that in a saturated cannabis industry, there is more benefit of going to other states such as Massachusetts, where the industry is just starting.

Recreational cannabis was legalized in Massachusetts in November 2016. The regulations in that state limit the number of licenses to operate a dispensary to avoid saturation. There is no limit in Oregon, and that’s contributed to the massive number of retailers and supply, Adedeji says.

This creates many problems for businesses. As of right now, the supply of cannabis in Eugene is so high that a gram of weed is $1, Adedeji says. Because he says he sees no profitable long-term future staying only in Eugene, he’s expanding his business eastward.

Since he started the business, Adedeji’s brand has gone through ups and downs in Eugene. He says he struggled to find an appropriate place to create his business that followed city regulations while managing to stay afloat in the saturated market.

VanOvereem has been in the industry since recreational weed became legal in 2014, and has experienced the saturation. She says that retailers are charged more and forced to sell for less. Getting good quality products, she says, is also difficult due to competition among retailers, and producers tend to increase prices as a result.

In Oregon, the cannabis supply is so staggering that it would take 6.5 years to use it all, according to a 2019 study by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. The same study found that there are 607 retailers throughout the state, which makes competition for the best products fierce and economic outcomes not as satisfying.

Though Adedeji is putting his efforts and resources to expand Elev8 to Massachusetts, he says he’s not going to close the Eugene branch. The Elev8 Eugene store will always be special to Adedeji, VanOvereem says, because of the local roots.

Getting his start in Eugene was also good for Adedeji as a businessman. Because the cannabis market here is so fierce and difficult to thrive in, Adedeji says that expanding to Massachusetts, where the industry is just starting, will be easier.

The Elev8 brand will change swiftly with the expansion. Adedeji says that the stores in Eugene and Massachusetts will be vertically integrated. This means that they’ll have a similar outlook to create brand consistency and make operations easier. But VanOvereem says that the Eugene store will always be different because the “vibe” here is also different: It is filled with inclusiveness, love and respect.