The OLCC announced in a December 28 press release that it would be implementing new cannabis rules that will take effect between 2022 and 2023. Steve Marks, OLCC executive director, addressed the need for these changes, expressing the desired outcome after the changes go live.
“These rules try to balance a number of different concerns—consumer health and safety, interests of small and large operators in our industry and public safety concerns around loopholes in the Federal Farm Bill of 2018, and the illicit farm production taking place in Oregon,” Marks said.
The source of these changes began with the approval of House Bill 3000 and Senate Bill 408. HB-3000 creates a foundation for limitations on “THC-laden hemp products from being sold unregulated in Oregon,” while SB-408 restructured penalties for licensees who violated the rules.
The press release also states that the violation categories that have been in place since 2016 are outdated, and the new rules plan to build off of the current industry landscape. Some of the new rules went into effect on January 1, 2022; however, other rules won’t immediately go live and will instead roll out from now through the beginning of 2023.
The OLCC notes that the “fading threat of Federal government action” due to the number of states that have legalized cannabis has also led to another rule change that restructures and reduces penalties for licensees who violate certain rules. OLCC Commissioner Matt Maletis admits that although it isn’t a perfect solution, it will still help the industry as a whole. “It may not make everybody happy, but it’s a pathway, and I think it solves a lot of the issues,” Maletis stated.
Rules will also be changing for consumers. After the new year begins, consumers will be able to purchase two ounces of usable cannabis (up from one). The amount of milligrams for edibles in particular will be increased from 50mg THC per package to 100mg THC, which will be eligible for sale after April 1, 2022. Additionally, “artificially derived cannabinoids” such as CBN or delta-8 products are now required to go through a review process to determine if they meet the standard of “New Dietary Ingredient,” with 18 months to ensure compliance.
Home delivery services will also be permitted in any city or county that allows it, and the OLCC is making plans to create a new section on its website to inform consumers about new delivery zones.
Marks concluded the press release with a reminder that there were many factors to these changes and the OLCC is confident it will improve the industry going forward. “We did listen to the public and did make significant changes to these rules, and I want to reiterate that we have come a very long way,” said Marks. “And this industry established success for Oregon. We are creating a successful business market, a successful consumer market. This is another big turn of progress.”
Oregon has met a variety of hurdles recently, including the still-thriving black market—so much that it was declared a state of emergency. However, legislation such as Senate Bill 893 is being crafted to combat illegal cultivation for the time being. Still, the state was also chosen to receive a $10 million grant to continue hemp research through the Global Innovation Center at Oregon State University. The grant program is known to be competitive, and Oregon researchers at OSU shared that they felt fortunate to be chosen among other elite institutions to receive the funds.
On December 28th, 2021, the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission released a compliance education bulletin. In it, they announced major changes to certain cannabis regulations and these will come into effect by July 2022. Products containing artificially derived cannabinoids will now be under strict regulations and some are banned entirely. On top of that, the […]
Jesce Horton founded LOWD, a craft cannabis company located in Portland, Oregon, in 2015. Immersed in Oregon cannabis causes and beyond, Horton was appointed by Oregon Governor Kate Brown to the Task Force for Cannabis Environmental Best Practices in 2016 and sits on the Board of Directors for both the Oregon Cannabis Business Association and the Oregon Cannabis Association.
With his wife, Jeannette Ward Horton—also an established industry leader in the space—they founded NuProject, a nonprofit seeded in-part by the City of Portland since 2019. The organization provides grants, loans, educational resources, job matching assistance and entrepreneurial services to cannabis business owners and start-ups.
Nationally, Horton co-founded the Minority Cannabis Business Association, founded and is an advisory board member for Marijuana Business Daily and is involved with, and past board member of, the Resource Innovation Institute—a national leader in establishing and educating on standards of farming practices.
An advisory board member of Ben’s Best, a venture by Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company, its focus is on funding Black-owned cannabis companies, supporting the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition and the Last Prisoner Project.
He’s also on a number of federal, state and local cannabis regulatory advisory committees, helping to design and strengthen cannabis markets in both Oregon and California and then some.
Horton’s resume may read as though he was born into the cannabis industry, but his journey to his place in the space, and to the Pacific Northwest from his birthplace of Charlottesville, Virginia, really did begin before he was born, when his father was arrested for carrying less than an ounce of weed.
Less than an Ounce, One Seed and Persecution
Horton knows first-hand how the failed War on Drugs can negatively affect just one small family for years, as his father was arrested for cannabis before he was born, with a lifetime of struggle to follow.
The charge should have been simple possession for carrying less than an ounce, but the bags were individually wrapped, sending him to prison for the maximum five-year sentence for distribution, serving four years for good behavior.
“After I was born the charges followed us, and my family would have to move wherever he could find work,” he shared. “As I grew older, the family did everything they could to keep me away from cannabis. It wasn’t that they were against it; it’s just that they didn’t want me being arrested.”
His family’s good intentions were all for naught, as he was indeed arrested a number of times. Mostly for misdemeanors—all surrounding cannabis.
“Once, I was stopped coming home from a party, and they patted me down and found one seed in my pocket,” he shared. “I spent that night and others in jail, but never went to prison.”
It’s no secret that white neighborhoods do as many drugs as neighborhoods with people of color. It’s also no secret that minority neighborhoods are policed more often and heavier than lighter hoods. This fact, this imbalance of justice, leaves a mark—with or without prison time.
“Just having a record means opportunities lost, depression, anxiety and a lack of belief—feeling like your life is ruined because of this plant,” he added. “It’s never made any sense.”
Engineering a One-Room Grow
Moving from state to state for his father’s work eventually led the family to Florida, where Horton majored in Industrial Engineering with a minor in Mathematics and Physics. He graduated from Florida State University in 2007 and was hired by German engineering company, Siemens, one of the largest engineering firms in the world.
“I started out in Atlanta with Siemens; then they sent me to Baltimore, then Houston,” he said. “I spent about a year and a half in Munich, Germany, when they transferred me back to the states and Portland, Oregon in 2011.”
Still working for Siemens, Horton set up a one-room grow op in the basement of his home, growing medicinal cannabis under the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP), helping a Fraternity brother and his wife.
“He had chronic pain in his knees, but his wife had breast cancer,” he said. “I worked with their caregiver to provide plant material, and the caregiver would make cannabis oil capsules and suppositories for them.”
The Art of Urban Craft Cultivation
From his greater good basement grow, to overseeing 24,000 square feet of indoor, and 12,000 square feet of greenhouse space today, Horton has come full-circle in the burgeoning essential industry too big to fail.
Notable is its win for Best Medical Hybrid at the 2016 Dope Industry Awards, with its 503 Wifi, bred from Wifi OG (White Fire OG) using cultivars, Fire Og and The White.
Quoting its website, “LOWD exists effortlessly at the intersection of urban culture and epic nature unique to the City of Portland.”
The brand’s SLAG jars, or “Smoke like a Grower,” jars, hold “intentionally selected buds” stick-trimmed right into the ultra-violet resistant glass jars, resulting in a slow cure—making the end-partaker the first one to touch the flower.
It’s attention to detail like this that makes a craft cannabis farmer stand out. But, what does this mean at the distribution site? How does one differentiate between slow cured craft flower and large-scale production bud—and should there be a pricing difference?
This conundrum is not lost on Horton, who laments the literal abandonment of legacy farmers—and the outright alienation of the industry’s pioneers.
“Legacy farmers in particular have found coming into compliance daunting, to say the least,” he said. “But, craft farming is the future of the high-end cannabis market. I really believe that portion of the market will increase in size and pricing will rise up accordingly. That’s my hope, anyway.”
Regarding the ongoing debate on whether high THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) cultivars are more in demand than a fuller profile via flavorful terpenes, Horton is forever hopeful.
“High THC isn’t a straight line to better cannabis,” he concluded. “People aren’t as discerning right now—they aren’t knowledgeable, but the more information we get out there about genetics, methodologies, the lack of pesticides and just growing healthy, flavorful plants, I feel more will gravitate to the craft cannabis market.”
Congressional leaders in the effort to reform U.S. cannabis policy published a plan to legalize marijuana nationwide in 2022, saying that is “time for the federal government to catch up to the rest of the country.” In a memo from Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Rep. Barbara Lee of California, the co-chairs of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus issued a progress report on steps taken by Congress on marijuana legalization in 2021. They also outlined steps to continue the effort next year, citing several pieces of legislation pending before the nation’s lawmakers.
“The table is set and the time is right for comprehensive cannabis reform, which will make a huge difference for people around the country,” Blumenauer said in a statement on December 16. “This year, we’ve advanced the MORE Act closer to the finish line, passed the SAFE Banking Act, and made progress in terms of research. Most importantly, we’ve watched this issue gain more momentum than ever with the American people—almost 70 percent of whom, including a majority of Republicans, want to see federal reform. Let’s get it done.”
In the memo, Blumenauer and Lee write that “2021 was a transformative year for cannabis reform, in which five new states–New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Virginia, Connecticut–legalized adult-use cannabis, and Alabama became the 37th state to legalize medical cannabis. A wealth of policy ideas targeted at ending cannabis prohibition on the federal level have also been introduced on Capitol Hill. This growing bipartisan momentum for cannabis reform shows Congress is primed for progress in 2022, and we are closer than ever to bringing our cannabis policies and laws in line with the American people.”
Lawmakers List Legislative Priorities for 2022
The memo also details priorities for next year, including federal descheduling of marijuana, sentencing reform, industry equity, and support for cannabis research. The plan includes several pieces of legislation already under consideration by Congress, including the SAFE Banking Act and the MORE Act. Under the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, federal banking regulators would be prohibited from penalizing banks that choose to serve cannabis firms doing business in compliance with state law. The legislation was initially introduced in the House of Representatives in 2013 by Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, who has reintroduced the bill every congressional cycle since.
Under the MORE Act, cannabis would be removed from the list of drugs regulated by the Controlled Substances Act, criminal penalties for federal cannabis offenses would be eliminated, and past federal cannabis convictions would be expunged. The bill, H.R. 3617, also establishes a tax on retail cannabis sales, with revenue raised by the tax invested in communities that were harmed under federal marijuana prohibition policies. The legislation was approved by the House Judiciary Committee in September and is still pending before several other House committees in its path to approval.
Blumenauer and Lee, both Democrats, also made note of an alternative to the MORE Act introduced by Republican Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina. They wrote that Mace’s bill, the States Reform Act, “adds an additional bipartisan perspective as to how to best normalize our nation’s cannabis laws.”
Creating an Equitable Cannabis Industry
The memorandum released by Lee and Blumenauer also calls for progress on sentencing reform for those convicted of federal cannabis offenses, arguing that “we must expunge cannabis-related convictions and allocate more resources to communities most impacted by the racist War on Drugs” once cannabis is legalized nationally. The lawmakers also called for support for research into the therapeutic effects of cannabis, including for veterans, as well as provisions to ensure equity in the cannabis industry once legalization is achieved.
“For states making progress on cannabis reform, we must ensure access to the growing cannabis industry is equitable,” the memo reads. “In addition to investing in the communities most impacted by the war on drugs, it’s crucial that states incentivize equal opportunity to participate in the cannabis industry, especially for people of color.”
In total, the memo cites nearly two dozen pieces of legislation that have been introduced to advance cannabis policy reform at the national level. Lee said that it is “time for the federal government to catch up to the rest of the country and start leading on cannabis reform.”
“The solutions for comprehensive reform are there, and this year we made progress. We’ve passed the MORE Act in the House, the SAFE Banking Act, and several Appropriations provisions,” Lee said in last week’s joint statement. “It’s far past time Congress move to finally get this across the finish line. Ending the war on drugs is an issue of racial equity and a moral imperative.”
Lawmakers in Oregon have passed legislation to address the state’s burgeoning illicit cannabis cultivation industry, allotting $25 million to help law enforcement and community organizations fight illegal cannabis growing operations.
Oregon voters legalized recreational marijuana and authorized regulated cannabis production and sales in 2014. Since then, illegal cultivation operations have popped up in droves, particularly in Klamath, Jackson, and Josephine Counties in the southern portion of the state. State Sen. Jeff Golden, who worked to get the bill added to the agenda for a one-day legislative special session last week, said that some rural areas of Oregon are “military-weapons zones, like the ones we usually associate with failed states.”
Golden said that many of the illegal cultivation operations are run by criminal cartels that are guilty of human trafficking, labor abuses, intimidation of local residents and theft of water during a persistent drought.
“Illegal cannabis operations in southern Oregon have been using our limited water supply, abusing local workers, threatening neighbors and negatively impacting businesses run by legal marijuana growers,” Golden added.
The measure, Senate Bill 893, was passed by Oregon state lawmakers on December 13 and signed into law by Gov. Kate Brown the following day. The new law establishes a $25 million “Illegal Marijuana Market Enforcement Grant Program” to assist local police, sheriff’s departments and other organizations address the illegal cannabis cultivation in their communities, including $5 million earmarked for the enforcement of water rights. Local law enforcement agencies that receive grants from the program will be required to work with community-based groups to address labor trafficking.
Earlier this year, Golden and state Reps. Pam Marsh and Lily Morgan wrote to a letter to the governor calling for help to fight illegal cannabis cultivation in Oregon’s Rogue Valley.
“The damaging impacts, including human trafficking of a labor force in conditions approaching slavery, severe aggravation of the drought through massive and systematic water theft, long-term damage to agricultural lands from various polluting practices, and the financial ruin of licensed growers whose compliance obligations make competition impossible are hard to overstate,” they wrote.
Is It Hemp or Cannabis?
Much of the illicit cannabis cultivation is occurring on farms that are ostensibly growing hemp, which was legalized at the federal level with the 2018 Farm Bill and is subject to far less stringent regulations than cannabis. The Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission recently reported that nearly half of the registered hemp farms inspected by the state are actually growing cannabis. About 25 percent of the hemp operations refused entry to inspectors, according to state agencies.
Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler told lawmakers the cartels “have a business model: Put up more cannabis illegal grows than law enforcement can ever get. They know we’re going to get some, but they know we can’t get it all.”
A southern Oregon farmer told the Associated Press that a creek he used to irrigate his crops has run dry due because illegal cannabis grows have stolen the water. He believes that the state does not have enough inspectors to ensure that farms are actually growing hemp and not cannabis. He also blames landowners who sell or lease property to shady operators.
“If somebody walks onto your property with a suitcase with $100,000 in $20 bills, you kind of know they’re not on the up and up,” the unidentified farmer said. “And if you take that money and allow them to do something on your land, you should probably anticipate that they’re there to break the law.”
Local Official Declare State of Emergency
In October, Jackson County officials declared a state of emergency over the illegal cannabis cultivation operations, calling on Brown, state Senate President Peter Courtney, and Oregon House of Representatives Speaker Tina Kotek for help.
“Jackson County strongly requests your assistance to address this emergency,” members of the county Board of Commissioners wrote in a letter to state leaders.
The commissioners called for funding, manpower and state National Guard troops to help deal with the problem of illegal marijuana cultivation in the county. Members of the board said that law enforcement, local code compliance officers, and state cannabis regulators have been overburdened by the illicit activity and warned of an “imminent threat to the public health and safety of our citizens from the illegal production of cannabis in our county.”
Passed by the legislature as an emergency measure, Senate Bill 893 goes into effect immediately. Morgan told reporters bills planned for the 2022 legislative session will further address the issue.
Residents and law enforcement officers welcomed the funding provided by the legislation, but predicted that $25 million will not be enough to control the problem of illicit cannabis production in Oregon.
“It will help,” said Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel. “But the issue is metastasizing statewide.”
Just as it was since Richard Nixon and the dawn of the War on Drugs, almost a decade into the United States’ experiment with marijuana legalization, cannabis remains America’s favorite illicit drug. This is because—according to police, politicians, and most everyone in the struggling, overtaxed and underperforming legal cannabis industry—the majority of the cannabis consumed in the country is still “illegal.”
Most of what the roughly 45 million Americans who used cannabis in the last year, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, used cannabis produced and sold outside of the legal marketplace: away from taxes, away from regulators, and—to hear law enforcement tell it—in the clutches of dangerous multinational criminal organizations (whom the police never can seem to catch, despite bust after bust after bust!).
The remarkably resilient status quo here begs a question: These days, where is the illegal weed coming from? And should you care?
Mistrust the Police
For some, marijuana legalization meant the end of the underground cannabis trade (although in fairness, legalization advocates rarely—if ever—said this; what they said was that legalization would create a competing regulated market). In retrospect, this was an ambitious but unrealistic over-promise. Halting alcohol prohibition didn’t end the mob any more than it discouraged bootleggers from evading taxes and the law.
Due to a combination of over-taxation and over-regulation, bootleg cannabis is often simply cheaper and easier to access. Though some $17.5 billion worth of legal weed was sold in the United States in 2020, as per Forbes, the illicit market is anywhere from three to eight times larger, depending on whose estimate you choose to believe. (And, if you ask some connoisseurs, because some legacy growers who have been producing top-end cannabis for decades have been shut out of the legal market, illicit cannabis may in some cases be better.)
But to hear police tell it, every state is the country’s leading trap state, as long as it’s their state (and thus their job to do something about it, a task that requires an ever-growing portion of your tax dollars).
Ever since Oklahoma legalized medical marijuana and opened what’s considered the most laissez-faire cannabis marketplace in America—it’s very easy to obtain a medical recommendation, and only slightly more difficult to get a license to cultivate and sell—the state Bureau of Narcotics has claimed that the Sooner State has become the nation’s top trap state, with as much as 60 percent of that pot destined for the illicit market, mostly by organized crime.
“You’ve got the cartel; you’ve got the Chinese drug ring; you’ve got the biker gangs,” as Oklahoma state Rep. Josh West told a Tulsa newspaper. “Pretty much every criminal organization is operating in the state of Oklahoma right now.”
That sounds scary—but as usual, hard facts are hard to come by. (Oklahoma newspapers are full of reports of neighbors complaining about “Chinese-speaking newcomers” growing pot; as POLITICO and other media reported, at least some of these are simply Americans with Chinese last names getting started in a new industry.)
But according to cannabis industry advocates and players, there’s reason to believe Oklahoma cannabis is absolutely reaching the growing demand in East Coast markets once supplied by legacy West Coast states like California and Oregon. For one, prices on both the legal and illegal markets are dropping in those states—signs that there’s competition coming from somewhere. And logic dictates that a state physically closer to high-demand markets may be better positioned to supply those markets.
“It’s hard to get any real facts about the Oklahoma thing, but I definitely know we’re getting stuff [in New York] from Oklahoma,” said Allan Gandelman, the co-founder of a New York state organic hemp farm and president of the New York State Cannabis Growers and Processors Association. (New York, though a very established cannabis marketplace, traditionally has been an importing state, and so may be a decent bellwether of trap patterns nationwide.)
“For people shipping out of state, the northeast is a lot closer to Oklahoma than it is to California,” he added. “That’s what happens when you have an almost totally unregulated market.”
But figuring out which state supplies the underground market also requires identifying the underground market. According to NORML, the states with the highest per-capita cannabis consumption are Oregon, Colorado, Vermont, Maine, and Alaska.
All of those states allow adult-use cannabis (though Vermont does not have retail dispensaries).
And both Oregon and Colorado have been identified by law enforcement as havens for illegal trafficking—again, due to the fact that legalization makes it relatively easy (or at least legal) to grow weed there. Oregon also has lower labor and land costs than California—so much so that it’s rumored Oregon cannabis floats south across the border to enter the California legal market.
Though cannabis consumers are everywhere, the country’s most sophisticated—and thirstiest—consumer marketplace is its oldest marketplace. And that’s a very familiar usual suspect.
According to state lawmakers, California’s illicit cannabis market is five times bigger than the legal market. One simple cause is that adult-use legalization made several thousand existing medical-marijuana retailers illegal, in part because of new permit fees and taxes, but also because of new zoning and licensing restrictions. But the effect is that there’s significant domestic demand for cannabis in a state that also produces it.
All that demand had to go somewhere—so it went underground. Note that the nation’s biggest illicit pot busts by volume all seem to happen in California. Over the summer, Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva claimed his deputies had busted what he described as a billion-dollar cannabis grow out in the Mojave Desert. In October, drug agents in the San Francisco Bay Area reported what they described as that region’s biggest-ever bust. Where is all this weed going? Some of it is going out of state, surely. But some of it is also surely supplying the domestic demand that the legal market can’t meet.
Demand is also related in part to branding. California has decades of cultural and marketing power behind it; the same can’t be said (yet) for Oklahoma Kush (though consumer choice is also dictating by price points). At high-end cannabis speakeasies in New York City, shelves are stocked with jars and bags bearing names of familiar West Coast brands—and if the cannabis inside is an imitator, it’s a talented impersonator.
But can this really be known—and does it really matter? Without quantification, the exact origin of the U.S.’s off-market weed can’t ever be “known” in the way the market for wine grapes and other commodities is “known.” And until legal cannabis can reliably compete with illegal cannabis on price and availability, there will always be an appetite for trap cannabis—no matter where it comes from.
To watch Jim Belushi laugh without abandon is to see the best of America on his joyful face, an America that’s unaffected by divisions or dangers at every turn: We see a deeply happy version of our next door neighbor. And it’s a welcome sight to be sure.
Jim Belushi is puffing on a cigar as he cruises through Southwest Oregon, taking his time on a late summer afternoon to talk fame, pain and cannabis from his inconspicuous-looking sedan. His royal blue polo shirt and black-framed glasses speak to a humility that one would think would be far-fetched from a man whose long career in the public eye has made him a household name.
Appearing in dozens of films including “About Last Night…,” “Trading Places” and “Red Heat,” and starring and executive producing the ratings juggernaut TV sitcom, “According To Jim,” Belushi says he’s never been happier than at this very moment in his nearly seven decades on the planet. Not because of anything he’s done in Hollywood, or any big business deals he’s made. This Belushi 2.0 is reveling in his new passionate relationship, a profound and inspiring one, with cannabis.
The plain-spoken celebrity used the plant back in the day, he says, but he’s only recently been able to truly embrace it. The 93-acre Belushi’s Farm in southwest Oregon employs 15 people and will produce 1,600 pounds of flower this year. And it’s all just to spread medicine to people who have waited their entire lives to replace their prescriptions. Belushi has been such a welcome presence in Oregon that the second season of his hit Discovery Channel show, “Growing Belushi,” is set to premiere at the end of the year. The Belushi good vibes just keep rolling.
“I measure success by the letters and the tweets that I get from people who say our cannabis has helped them,” Belushi says when asked what success looks like to him now. “I got my ‘According To Jim’ bucks, so as long as I break even, I’m satisfied.”
Belushi, whose brilliant older brother John tragically died of a drug overdose at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles back in 1982, shares stories of people whose lives he’s been able to impact and celebrates the importance of the many cannabis trailblazers who came before him. Some of those trailblazers are still in prison, he points out, his frustration evident. That’s why Belushi supports the non-profit Last Prisoner Project, an organization that helps free people convicted of low-level marijuana crimes during the more than eight decades of cannabis prohibition.
But, for the better part of the hour I spent with the smart, witty Chicago native, he was in the mood to communicate. A few minutes into our convo, Belushi is amazingly comparing the soulful, feminine energy he feels from his pot plants to an oracle that speaks to Apollo and Zeus in Greek mythology. Personally, I can’t get enough — his passion is undeniable, and the urgency he feels to reach more and more people who need help is palpable. Belushi, as if on cue, then reveals how he even plays his harmonica to his beloved plants, since they’re clearly listening and celebrating right along with him. I believe him.
But we had so much more to discuss and discover.
What makes your marijuana different from the dozens and dozens of other competitors you have in Oregon?
I look at it like the film industry. There are a lot of great movies out there. You go to a movie and it’s great, and you and your girl want to go to another movie because you had a good experience.
Good cannabis makes people want to have more good experiences, so they should try everybody’s product. Ours is right up there in the Oregon market as being very, very good weed. We have great THC values, but more importantly we have tremendous terpene values.
I have an excellent grower and we’re growing with natural nutrients. I’m flushing their irrigation out two weeks before so it’s a perfect white ash. I’m keeping the soil at 64 degrees so the nutrients will be absorbed into the roots. We’ve got light-dep greenhouses, so we protect the growing environment from the aphids and the mold and russet mites. And we also have that beautiful southern Oregon soil. How does your cannabis stand out, then, like a good film would?
That’s a very good question and it’s one of those questions where I cannot give you certain things [Laughs]. We do have some secret moves that other growers don’t have and that we covet.
We just went over to Advanced Nutrients, which has been really good. And we just built two new greenhouses by Gro-Tec with really great high ceilings. We changed to Fohse LED lights, which creates about 30 percent more penetration into the plants when we need to augment the light if it’s cloudy, in order to keep the ‘lumes up to close to 1100 (watts). It ensures there’s consistency in the plant. We supplement with (Medford, Oregon-based) Rogue Soil, which is packed with great natural nutrients and gives our plants a great boost and great color.
Have you ever been happier than you are at this very moment?
I’ve done a lot of personal work, and it really started when I bought this farm, along the Rogue River, the middle of the spiritual vortex between Mount McGlothlin and Table Rock. There was a Native American vortex of spirituality here and now we’ve brought in this spiritual plant.
Here’s the thing, I do believe this plant has changed me. Being alongside of it, caring for it and loving it. I play my harmonica for these girls. The relationship with these plants has changed me. They’ve enlightened me and made me a better person. So, I have to say, yes, I’m probably in the best place that I’ve ever been, and I attribute it all to, like, starting a relationship with this old beautiful feminine energy. The Oracle is a feminine creature that tells Apollo and Zeus what to do. Well, the Oracle on my farm are these plants, and let’s just say we treat them like that.
What’s the extent of your involvement on your farm?
I collaborate with my grower, Anthony Anaya. I’ve gone through three growers, and I finally found a winner with Anthony. He’s like Elvis Presley! [Laughs] He’s been in the industry for 15 years in Oregon and he knows his stuff. I collaborate with him; I collaborate with Jeremy and my cousin Chris. It’s like, you can’t do a movie or a show by yourself. You need directors, producers, writers, prop people and cameramen.
Can you describe some of the most surprising challenges you’ve faced as a cannabis grower that perhaps you weren’t expecting?
I wasn’t expecting the aphids, mites, gophers, squirrels, deer and mold. They never tell you that stuff when you put your money out and invest in this industry. Wow! We lost 300 pounds last year to mold alone. That’s why I’ve made recent shifts in our products. It helps us control the environment enough to eradicate pests and mold while using natural remedies.
How have the wildfires in the area and record heat over the past couple summers affected your ability to grow cannabis?
They’ve affected the employees, but not the plants. It gets very smoky, and we make everyone wear masks for protection. The heat during that time is at around 115°F — we keep the plants hydrated, so they can survive that just fine. During the last fire, the employees started working at six in the morning and left early before the main heat of the day.
Is it really true that Dan Aykroyd’s comment about your late brother John potentially being alive today had he used cannabis instead of other substances played a role in inspiring you to get involved in pot?
Absolutely! Danny was a pothead, but he didn’t mess with other drugs. I’m not saying John didn’t use cannabis, but I still think John’s stuff possibly came from other things like CTE from playing football. Look, we have 33,000 veterans committing suicide a year. PTSD — what it does to these men and these women — the scarring and the traumas: I really think cannabis can help relieve some of their trauma and help them make better decisions.
I once met a veteran in a dispensary parking lot. I looked at him and I said, “are you alright?” He said “No, I was a medic in Iraq. I saw things happen to the human body that nobody should ever see.” He said doctors gave him OxyContin and he just couldn’t do it. But cannabis got him off OxyContin. And he tells me, “Your Black Diamond OG strain allows me to talk to my wife and talk to my children and sleep.” He hugged me and I said, “Hey man, I didn’t make this.” He says “No, but you’re the steward.”
That moment became a paradigm shift in my relationship with our industry. So, yeah, I’m chasing the medicine. The magic of the medicine.
The arc of your life has been fascinating — from juvenile probation and being in trouble as a kid to having a big Hollywood career and now just narrowly escaping the area’s massive wildfires. You’ve been adjacent to a lot of stuff, but somehow have been able to navigate everything. Do you feel there’s someone or something watching over you?
I’m on mission from God. [Long pause] I just listen. What do you want me to say? [Pause] I just keep looking for the light, for something bigger than myself. Within our industry, it’s medicine.
Another thing that’s really big for me is the Last Prisoners Project. It’s our duty in this industry to get these men and women out of jail. They were the pioneers; they were the ones that laid on the barbed wire for us to get legalization and make a living. We got to get them out of jail, and we got to hire them within our industry.
What do you have in mind for expanding your cannabis footprint?
There’s a lot of talk going on. And right now, I’m with RedBird in Oklahoma. Then with Columbia Care, and the Green Solution in Colorado. I got a Blues Brothers ice cream brand being launched and also Blues Brothers Bhang Chocolates, which are really good.
I currently have four brands: The Blues Brothers brand, of which we have three or four different types of joints. It has a flip-top box so we can put it in a shirt sleeve. We call them Baby Blues, a little six-pack. We have the single gram joint, which we call Rocket 88. And then I have Chasing Magic, which is my secret stash and really the higher premium brand of what we grow.
And now we just released the Captain Jack joint in Oregon. Oh, and we’ve also just released Good Ugly Weed, which is really good weed.
Good Ugly Weed seems to be very on-brand for you: a little scruffy, but also lovable and powerful.
It may be ugly, but it’s good, man! [Laughs] We just put out some Good Ugly Weed at 24 percent THC. It’s a value brand and the dispensaries are just dying for it. The profit margin on it isn’t huge, but I got my comedy bucks, you know. So as long as I break even on it.
How many different strains do you grow at a time and in how many dispensaries is your product currently sold?
We have in our library around 20 different genetics. With our new Gro-Tech greenhouses, we can grow up to eight genetics at a time. With four cycles and four greenhouses, we have a lot of flexibility.
Any plans to expand with CBD?
I just created a CBD tincture for my dog. It’s a tincture of 500 milligrams, full-spectrum, called K-9ine. And it’s only offered on my website, I’m just putting it out there for other dog lovers. And I know it works: My dog couldn’t walk for three days, but then he chased me up the stairs.
Of all the cannabis legal states. What drew you to do business in Oregon, Colorado, Oklahoma and Illinois? Was it just a matter of less barriers to entry or was there anything more?
Well, I’ve also talked to companies in California, Nevada, and Pennsylvania. In Oregon and the other states where you can be a cultivator and distribute, I’m just having better luck.
Are you trying to become the Bobby Flay of cannabis, or are you more of the Oprah? Through your show, you’re making cannabis easy for the person who has no connection to any of this.
I think I have what it takes to create competence in cannabis. There are so many people that are curious about it, and I’m trying to use “Growing Belushi” to try and bridge that curiosity and show the viewers how it’s grown, how it’s tested as well as some of the medical things that revolve around it. Also, show them, this is how you smoke a vape pen; this is how you take an edible.
Have you had to deal with any chest-pounding trolls on Twitter for being a Belushi and also championing cannabis?
No, I haven’t experienced that. But I’ll tell you why. Everybody knows somebody who’s suffering. Everybody wants to stop their relatives or their friends from suffering, and they’re curious about cannabis. I know a lot of people are targeting the youth with cannabis, but there’s a lot of interest among Baby Boomers, too.
I literally take people into a dispensary and say “Look, it’s not a mom-and-pop place; it’s not where drug dealers are hanging out. It looks like an Apple Store.” I encourage people to just try going into a dispensary and not to be frightened.
What does success look like for you now? Before, your definitions of success had to do with opening box office figures or the week-to-week Nielsen ratings of a TV show. Is this moment different because you’re in it for the long game and you’re in it to help people?
I measure success by the letters and the tweets that I get from people who say our cannabis has helped them. Another measure that I’ve already reached is breaking even on the business side of things! [Laughs] I’m investing in myself. Instead of the stock market, I’m investing in the farm.
Is “Growing Belushi” going international?
Yes, it’s an international show now. We just made a deal with a foreign distribution company that’s taking it all over the world.
Ha! So, you are becoming cannabis’ answer to Bobby Flay or Guy Fieri!
[Laughs] Guy Fieri is actually in the show! He comes to the farm, and I make my ice cream for him, my chocolate. We cook some Albanian dishes. He cooks in my backyard and we make ribs in a smoker. The episode is awesome.
A group representing cannabis businesses and activists is calling on the governors of four western states to explore receiving federal approval for interstate trade in cannabis, a move that could help set the stage for the eventual national legalization of cannabis.
In a letter posted online, the Alliance for Sensible Markets called on the governors of California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington to seek guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice on how the government would react if two or more states with legal medical or adult-use marijuana decided to regulate cannabis trade across their state lines. The letter notes that federal legalization of cannabis, which at this point seems inevitable, will present an economic opportunity to cannabis-producing states in the West.
“When the federal government legalizes cannabis, the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution guarantees that producers across our four states will have non-discriminatory access to every legal adult-use and medical market in the country,” the letter reads. “That will be worth billions of dollars per year to our states’ economies, increasing state revenues and spurring investment, expansion, business formation, and jobs and could, if it happens soon, save thousands of small farms and businesses from extinction.”
The Alliance for Sensible Markets is a Portland, Oregon-based coalition of cannabis activists and producers including the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the Washington Sun and Craft Growers Association, the Weed for Warriors Project, and the Colorado Cannabis Manufacturers Association. Formed last year, the organization has two primary goals to achieve interstate cannabis commerce.
First, the group is working to bring two or more states with legal marijuana together to join in an interstate compact outlining the parameters for legal cannabis commerce between them. Secondly, a path to federal approval of the plan would have to be drafted and set into motion.
Interstate Commerce to Set the Stage for a National Cannabis Industry
Paired with a federal policy that would permit state-legal cannabis businesses to operate without interference, interstate cannabis commerce could be a more politically viable path to many of the goals of full legalization. Adam Smith, the founder and president of the Alliance for Sensible Markets, believes that interstate commerce in cannabis can connect consumers in newly legal markets with western cannabis producers, who have recently seen wholesale prices plummet.
“Thousands of small farms and businesses across the Pacific Northwest, in communities that have depended on the economics of cannabis for generations, face economic catastrophe as they choke on a glut of some of the world’s best and most efficiently produced cannabis,” Smith wrote in an email to High Times. “This is not an oversupply problem, it’s a market access problem. Meanwhile, millions of patients and consumers in legal states where cannabis is expensive and environmentally costly to grow will be stuck in illicit markets for years, and thousands of potential retail, distribution, delivery and other businesses will be stuck on the sidelines waiting for a steady but limited and overpriced supply chain to emerge in their states.”
The group maintains that the current system of regulated cannabis trade, with each state that has legalized marijuana operating its own contained market of production, manufacturing, distribution and sales, is unsustainable. By seeking guidance from the federal government now instead of waiting for national legalization, the coalition hopes to create a more sustainable cannabis industry that better serves the needs of all stakeholders.
“We believe that the simple act of asking the question will significantly advance the national conversation around the future of legal cannabis, and that positive guidance from DOJ will spur changes beneficial to both producer and consumer states, as well as to patients, consumers, public safety, social equity, small businesses and environmental sustainability in any legal or medical states that choose to regulate and engage in commerce in advance of federal legalization,” the letter concludes.
Smith says that California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, four states that were early pioneers in the cannabis legalization movement, are uniquely positioned to help shape national policy with federal regulators.
“Federal Legalization will open markets, but waiting for the federal government to ‘fix’ cannabis has never been a winning strategy,” Smith explained. “It has always been the states taking the lead on reform. Positive DOJ guidance will open the path to a more rational, just, and sustainable industry now, in states that choose to participate in commerce.”
The Alliance for Sensible Markets is currently encouraging additional cannabis consumers, businesses, and other interested parties to sign the letter and plan to deliver it to the four western governors next month.
Oregon State Police seized roughly 500,000 pounds of cannabis as part of a sweeping bust last week, the latest illicit grow operation to uncovered by authorities in the southern part of the state.
The state police said that its Drug Enforcement Section for the southwest region of Oregon served a search warrant last Thursday in the community of White City, which is located in Jackson County.
The location targeted by the warrant “consisted of five industrial-sized warehouses zoned for commercial use,” the state police said.
“Over 100 individuals were initially detained, identified, interviewed and released. Several of the individuals were migrant workers living on-site in subpar living conditions without running water,” the organization explained in a Facebook post published over the weekend.
The operation spanned more than two days, over the course of which “an epic amount of illegal, processed marijuana and a firearm were seized.”
“The DES Team’s conservative estimation on the amount of processed marijuana seized was approximately 500,000 lbs., which depending on where it would be exported to, has a conservative street value of somewhere around $500 million,” the state police said, adding that it remains “a very involved investigation and will be ongoing for several weeks,” and that it will release “more information when available.”
Such raids have become a common occurrence in Jackson County, where local officials last month declared a state of emergency over the illicit cannabis cultivation.
Oregon voters passed a ballot measure in 2014 legalizing recreational cannabis use for adults and establishing the framework for a regulated cannabis market, but unregulated production endures, particularly in the southern part of the state.
Jackson County law enforcement officials served another search warrant last month that resulted in the destruction of 17,522 cannabis plants and about 3,900 pounds of harvested marijuana. And a separate bust last month in the southern Oregon county of Klamath led to an enormous haul in a 27,000-square-foot potato shed.
The Herald and News newspaper reported at the time that the large potato shed was “filled with marijuana in various stages of processing: drying in giant strands that stretched from the roof to the floor, buds pruned and stuffed into 40-pound bags, hundreds of those bags stacked against a wall and years of discarded marijuana waste in piles ready for disposal.”
The illicit activity has prompted Jackson County officials to call for help.
In a letter to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and other legislative leaders, Jackson County’s board of commissioners lobbied for assistance to law enforcement officials and regulators who they said were beleaguered by the amount of illicit marijuana activity.
The commissioners called the unregulated cultivation an “imminent threat to the public health and safety of our citizens from the illegal production of cannabis in our county.”
“Jackson County strongly requests your assistance to address this emergency,” the commissioners wrote in the letter.
One of the commissioners, Rick Dyer, said at a news conference last month that county law enforcement had reported a “59 percent increase in calls for service associated with the marijuana industry, including burglary, theft, assault, robbery and nuisance crimes.”
The commissioners requested additional funds and even the deployment of National Guard troops to combat the illicit activity. The Oregon State Police said that last week’s 500,000 pound bust in White City “was assisted by the Josephine Marijuana Enforcement Team (JMET) of Josephine County, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Medford Office, the Basin Interagency Narcotics Team (BINET) of Klamath County, the Illegal Marijuana Enforcement Team (IMET) of the Medford Police Department-Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and Jackson County Fire District No. 3.”
Law enforcement officers and other authorities in southern Oregon say that a rash of illegal marijuana cultivation operations in the area are linked to Mexican drug cartels intent on overwhelming local resources as a strategy to maximize profits.
In Jackson County, officials declared a state of emergency last month and said that the proliferation of illicit pot farms had strained local law enforcement and other resources. In a letter to Oregon Governor Kate Brown and state lawmakers, the Jackson County Board Commissioners called for more funding and personnel to support law enforcement and code compliance efforts in the area.
Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer told reporters that other illegal activities including human trafficking, forced labor and unsafe living conditions for workers are tied to the unregulated marijuana cultivation in Oregon, where cannabis commerce is legal for licensed businesses. He added that illegal operators intimidate and abuse their workers, who are often minors or the parents of young children.
“This is cartel activity,” Dyer said. “A human rights crisis is what we are seeing going on at these grows.”
Oregon Officials Seek Regional Solution
Officials in Jackson County hope that their counterparts in neighboring Klamath and Josephine Counties will declare a similar state of emergency so that the region sends a unified message to state leaders.
“It’s harder to ignore when it’s a regional declaration of an emergency,” Dyer said. “And the more of a united front we present it will make it harder to ignore. It is a regional problem, and it could be a regional solution.”
After serving a search warrant on the property and further investigation, the illicit cannabis activities in the potato shed were connected to two other unlicensed marijuana cultivation and processing sites in the area.
“I’ve had to completely readjust my sense of where we are in fighting illegal marijuana production in Klamath,” Klaber said, as quoted by the Herald and News. “I didn’t think we were this far behind.”
“This really is—and I’ve said it before—organized criminal activity,” Kaber added. “This definitely fits the definition in Oregon of what organized criminal activity is.”
Illicit Activity Overwhelms Local Resources
Sergeant Cliff Barden of the Oregon State Police Basin Interagency Narcotics Enforcement Team also says that the illicit cultivation operations are linked to drug cartels. He believes that the strategy of the criminal organizations is to produce so much illicit marijuana that local law enforcement agencies are unable to keep up with the volume of illegal activity.
“They are intentionally trying to overwhelm the system,” he said. “And that is why it is so difficult.”
Barden acknowledged that many of the smaller grows are independent unlicensed operators hoping to profit from the illicit market. But larger cultivation operations are often controlled by drug cartels in Mexico, sometimes through a go-between located in California.
“If they are smaller grows—one to two greenhouses or less—that could be anything, generally just some little crew trying to make some money,” Barden said. “Almost all of the large grows—with dozens and dozens of greenhouses or even more, especially this year—have all been the exact same type of operations that are all coordinated from out of state, run by some mid-level person connected to Mexico.”
Dyer noted that many of the operations growing illicit marijuana are masquerading as farms cultivating hemp, which is also legal in Oregon but less tightly regulated.
“We are finding that 75 to 80 percent of these registered hemp grows are growing illegal marijuana,” he said. “There are probably three or four times the amount of unregistered hemp grows than there are registered grows.”
With the state of emergency and increased law enforcement, officials hope to create a deterrent to unlicensed activity that helps stem the tide of illegal cannabis cultivation. But before that can happen, they will have to make up for years of lost ground.
“Our short-term goal here, locally, is basically to show the organized crime operations that Klamath County is not a place they will be left alone or be safe, and that we will work aggressively to enforce the laws we have so they have a harder time making a profit here,” Barden said.
“After this year, with just a little show of enforcement, we’ll hopefully, gradually get better and better. That’s what I’m hoping for. Before this year, there really wasn’t much marijuana enforcement at all for quite a few years, and it kind of exploded because of that.”