National Coalition Formed to Protect Small-Scale Cannabis Growers

The National Craft Cannabis Coalition, comprised of state-level advocacy groups from Oregon, California, Washington, Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts, was formed with the goal of promoting state and federal policies that support small-scale growers, starting with the SHIP Act introduced by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA).

The SHIP (Small and Homestead Independent Producers) Act would allow craft growers to ship and sell weed directly to their consumers if and when marijuana is federally legalized. If passed, the bill would take effect once marijuana is removed from its current Schedule 1 status and once all criminal penalties are removed under federal law concerning marijuana.

“Too often, the federal government falls behind, and the gears of Congress work too slowly to keep up with the pace of a changing economy,” Representative Huffman said.

“Under my bill, folks in our state will be able to ship their products straight to consumers when the antiquated federal prohibition on cannabis is finally repealed. As large, commercial cannabis operations squeeze out local producers from the market, this legislation is critical for farmers to survive and expand their small businesses.”

Under the SHIP act, a qualifying cannabis grower would be anyone who cultivates:

  • One acre or less of 18 mature flowering marijuana plant canopy using outdoor cultivation
  • 22,000 square feet or less of marijuana plant canopy using greenhouse cultivation
  • 5,000 square feet or fewer of mature flowering marijuana plant canopy using indoor cultivation

Small and craft growers have lamented they don’t stand a chance in markets dominated by large multi-state operators capable of growing exponentially more canopy space for a fraction of the cost, especially when the final product has to be packaged and sold through third-party businesses. This results in a lot of large, vertically-integrated companies essentially pricing out the little guys who can’t afford to buy and operate their own dispensary, grow facility, and packaging facility.

“These producers operate on a much smaller scale than traditional agriculture with many cultivating less than an acre of total canopy,” said Amanda Meztler of F.A.R.M.S. Inc Oregon.

“With federal legalization on the horizon, it’s critical that craft cannabis producers organize across state lines to ensure that federal policy includes a level playing field for small and independent businesses.”

Thus, members of the NCCC have collectively proposed that the only way small growers can survive is if they are allowed to sell directly to their customers.

“The direct-to-consumer model is a necessary resource for any small-scale craft-producing community that is deeply tied to the land on which it creates — whether it produces wine, whiskey, cheese, beer, cannabis, or honey,” said Genine Coleman, Executive Director of Origins Council in a prepared statement.

“The legacy cannabis community that has worked so long in the shadows should have the opportunity to join the ranks of other artisan producers across the United States and enjoy the privilege of connecting personally with their adult customers.”

To date the NCCC represents over 1,000 small and independent commercial cannabis growers through their state-level organizations including Origins Council (CA), F.A.R.M.S. Inc (OR), Washington Sun & Craft Growers Association (WA), Vermont Growers Association (VT), Maine Craft Cannabis Association (ME), and Farm Bug Co-Op (MA).

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Oregon Officials to Deploy Decoys to Catch Underage Weed, Alcohol Sales

The Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission (OLCC) will resume operations and send underage decoys to cannabis and alcohol retailers according to a September 15 press release.

In some Oregon cities, two out of three retailers failed to check for IDs with “abysmal” results—leading OLCC officials to promise a heavier-handed operation this time around.

The OLCC oversees its Minor Decoy Operations (MDO), and officials will send decoys under the age of 21 to both alcohol and cannabis retailers to attempt to purchase products from them. The OLCC chose to pay decoys this year instead of recruiting volunteers, and sought out 18 to 20-year-olds who appeared to look aged 26 or older.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the chaos that ensued, Minor Decoy Operations was shut down temporarily as it was getting more and more difficult to recruit volunteers. OLCC restarted the program last May and recruited people between the ages of 18 and 20.

OLCC carried out several operations across Oregon, and said that the operations have revealed that a stunning number of retailers in the state are not properly checking IDs for underage patrons.

“The state has never seen these kinds of terrible results in alcohol sales compliance checks since the program was initiated in the 1990’s,” said Steve Marks, OLCC Executive Director. “Every licensee that engages in the sale of alcohol needs to immediately place a priority on the proper training of servers and store clerks.”

Eugene retailers performed especially badly: In two MDOs in the Eugene region, around two out of three retailers failed to properly check identification and sold alcohol to an OLCC minor decoy posing as a customer. The combined compliance rate for the Eugene MDOs was just 35%.

Since the program restarted, the OLCC launched five regional operations across the state to check 64 locations that sell alcohol. Two MDOs in Portland produced compliance rates of 70% and 85%, and a single MDO in the Salem region resulted in a compliance rate of 88%—the best result so far.

This makes the statewide compliance rate 63% since the MDO activity started again. OLCC’s objective is to have 90% or more of its licensees in compliance. Individual MDO reports containing more details can be found on the OLCC website.

OLCC officials are frequently in cahoots with police. “The OLCC and local law enforcement agencies frequently partner in operations together monitoring minor decoys who attempt to purchase alcohol,” the OLCC stated.

The OLCC ramped operations up in 2018 when weed retailers failed to check minors for IDs, “in order to remind the industry of the importance of this public safety issue, and to get an immediate improvement in results.”

Inspectors from OLCC’s Compliance Division are available to provide identification checking classes to alcohol and marijuana retailers at no cost. Information on how to contact an OLCC regional office to schedule an in-person class can be found on the OLCC website. Licensees can find an ID checking tip sheet on the OLCC website.

OLCC Executive Director Marks is more than a little concerned about the failure to comply with regulations.

“The statewide compliance rate as it currently stands is abysmal,” said Marks. “These results are fully unacceptable and be assured that OLCC understands its profound responsibility to Oregonians to ensure sales of alcohol are made properly. We will take action.”

Abysmal compliance rates from retailers in Oregon were also an issue in 2018, which was the last time the OLCC ramped things up.

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Global cannabis sales will grow to $57B but depend on new markets

As prohibition lifts an ugly grasp on cannabis, the new market prospers. BDSA is an analytics firm that tracks the industry through an enormous point-of-sale network. A recent report by the firm suggests global cannabis sales will grow to $57 Billion by 2026. This author spoke with the Founder and CEO but also Andy Seeger […]

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Face of the Farmer: Prime Kind Farms

When Ben Bickle was growing up on his parent’s farm in Grants Pass, OR, he learned to grow food, cut flowers, raise livestock and fell timber. Nearly everything they consumed came from the farm, the forest, the river or the sea. Owning a cannabis farm was nowhere near his thoughts.

“I thought everyone lived like that,” he says. “I was 17 when I realized that wasn’t the norm, and that people bought meat and produce at the store. The travesty is, most people don’t realize where food comes from, how it’s farmed, or how livestock is treated. They don’t think about what they put into their bodies and how it got there.”

Bickle’s father worked as an agricultural advisor for the State of Oregon for 36 years, also teaching agriculture at the local high school, where he and his wife met. His mom was an art teacher, retiring a dozen years ago. His dad retired from both ag work and teaching in 2002.

Ask any farmer what its biggest export is and they might tell you it’s their children who leave the farm to find themselves in the world. That’s precisely Ben Bickle’s story. 

“I left the family farm for Alaska when I was 19 years old,” he begins. “I loved snowboarding and competed—traveling on the road for outerwear companies. I’d go to places in the winter where there was snow, then head to the rivers in the summer for fly fishing. It’s all still here in Oregon, but I got the traveling part out of my system.”

After being gone for a decade, Bickle said he came back to the roost, following in his parents’ footsteps, studying—then teaching—fine art at the same school his mom and dad taught at, while continuing to work the farm. And, more importantly, to raise his own children in the sustainable lifestyle he’s come to love.

The only difference today, he says, is he added hemp, then cannabis to the mix, when it was legal to do so.

“The hemp and cannabis [additions to the farm] are all me,” he says. “Mom and Dad have come to understand it all; and though Dad’s retired from farming, he comes over and helps often.”

Plants Over Pharma

Ben Bickle of Prime Kind Farms.

As a young child, Bickle said he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and was prescribed the pharmaceutical, Ritalin.

According to the Center for Disease Control, “ADD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood.” Often lasting into adulthood, people diagnosed have a hard time focusing, paying attention and controlling impulsive behaviors—often diagnosed alongside Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

As cited in a PubMed reportCannabis for the Treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Report of 3 Cases, the subjects questioned were already using cannabis for the condition, with all reporting, “subjective improvements in symptoms and on quality of life.” It was assumed and surmised by the doctors conducting the report, “that cannabis played a complementary role in the therapeutic regimen of the three patients.”

Bickle credits his parents with being smart enough to prevent him from taking Ritalin, instinctively knowing that redirecting their rambunctious son to sports and farm work would help him focus.

They weren’t wrong.

“My day began at five in the morning,” he says. “I’d feed and care for the animals, tended to the food we grew, whatever had to be done before school. I learned a serious work ethic on the farm, and combined with sports, it kept me busy and out of too much trouble.”

He realized cannabis helped him focus just by smoking when he was a teenager but kept it under wraps on the farm and within his conservative farming community for many years. Today, he has a better understanding of how hemp and cannabis—medicinal plants—helped him over the years.

Food, Swine & Weed

Oregon was the first state in the country to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis in 1973, with a ticket given likened to a traffic offense making the offense tolerated for decades. In 1998, Oregonians voted to add medicinal use of the plant; then finally legalizing it for adult use after several failed attempts on the ballot, in 2014.

Prime Kind Farms was founded by his parents in 1972, with Bickle running its medical cannabis and hemp operation since 2008, in what he refers to as a polyphase farm, meaning having or producing two or more phases of a certain thing. For Bickle, his use of two terms together with “sustainable polyphase” farming is having or producing two or more phases of agricultural products being grown or raised in a rotation with the land, on what it can yield efficiently and effectively given the season or year. 

Many farms, he says, are monocultured, with Prime Kind Farms able to be highly diversified and non-stagnant as they can be.

“We run two acres of hemp, while rotating our land use, sourcing all our own livestock compost as our only feed for the hemp, from 75 to 150 head of hogs,” he says. “We aren’t allowed to feed the livestock hemp, which is a shame, as they’d benefit from it. All our livestock graze free-range on the farm.”

According to an article in GlobeNewswire.com, prior to the prohibition of hemp in the US, all livestock grazed on, what used to be called, “ragweed,” that grew wild across the plains. With a full cannabinoid and terpene profile, the grazing feed was loaded with beneficial compounds, that were then passed down to the consumer for optimal health.

Sadly, the 2018 Farm Bill, allowing American farmers to grow hemp again, have restricted hemp byproducts to be fed to livestock. This is something that makes little sense to Bickle and is an issue hemp farmers are working to change.

Art & Ag

For the Bickles, farming is a family affair.

The apples didn’t fall to far from the family tree, as Bickle’s kids are showing an interest in art, as well as working on the hemp farm.

“Just like my mom was, I’m the only fine arts teacher at the high school, so I’ve been able to teach a wide variety of mediums,” Bickle says. “I teach eight projects per semester, including drawing, painting, digital photography and sculpting.”

Bickle says they’re definitely an art family and will probably always own the cannabis farm, but he believes the cannabis market has to change.

“Unless the market space for cannabis gets a little bit more understanding in realizing sungrown cannabis is more superior to indoor grown in a greenhouse, I’ll keep teaching art, and we’ll keep focusing on our food crops for our bread and butter,” he said.

For decades food farmers on the North Coast—stretching from Washington State to Northern California—have been subsidizing with cannabis in order to allow them to be food farmers. In the case of the Bickles, adding cannabis when it was legal to do so, has added another much-needed revenue stream, but it’s also introduced an unexpected element: ridicule.

“Cannabis use still has a negative stigma attached to it,” he says. “As educators in our community, we’ve had to walk a fine line in farming legal cannabis. It’s added a whole other layer concerning education on the benefits of the plant, while we maintain respect as longtime, established food farmers and educators in the community.”

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The COVID Cannabis Bubble has Popped

In March 2020, when governments worldwide – even in so-called “liberal democracies” – put their citizens under house arrest, people started consuming many more substances, including cannabis. This boom was artificial, though. Fuelled by stimulus checks, unemployment insurance, and general fear and hopelessness about the future – the great cannabis boom of 2020 is now […]

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Oregon Law Enforcement Seizes Illegal Cannabis Plants, Leaves Four Plants Behind

The Josephine Marijuana Enforcement Team (JMET) worked with Josephine County Code Enforcement to raid the grow on Aug. 4 in Selma, located in the southwestern region of Oregon. In addition to seizing over 140 plants, 200 pounds of illegal cannabis were also seized and destroyed.

According to the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office, the size of the grow wasn’t a big deal. “Although the size of this grow operation was not large in comparison to others we have seen this year, it was well beyond the legal limit of four plants allowed per Oregon State Law,” the department wrote in a Marijuana Search Warrant document. Just a few days before this raid occurred, JMET conducted four other search warrants and found over 12,000 plants, and over 4,535 kilograms of processed cannabis.

However the report did briefly address why they left four plants behind. “JMET always leaves four legal marijuana plants when we dismantle each grow operation,” the report continued.

One person was arrested on site of the most recent raid, a 51-year-old man charged with unlawful manufacturing and possession of cannabis. Due to other violations on site, including “multiple electrical and solid waste code violations,” this could also result in “civil forfeiture of the property.” It was not specified who would care for the four remaining cannabis plants while the arrested individual is absent.

According to NORML, cultivating four to eight plants in Oregon is considered a misdemeanor, with the possibility of six months jail time and a fine of up to $2,500. Cultivation of more than eight plants is a felony, which could lead to up to 5 years in prison and up to $125,000 in fines.

In October 2021, the Jackson County Board of Supervisors called a State of Emergency regarding the influx of illegal cultivation, and petitioned Gov. Kate Brown for assistance. “Since recreational marijuana was legalized by the voters of Oregon in the November 2014 general election, the illegal and unlawful production of marijuana in our county has overwhelmed the ability of our county and state regulators to enforce relevant laws in our community,” said Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer.

Gov. Brown’s spokesperson, Charles Boyle, echoed the support of the governor regarding the need for assistance. “The message is clear—Oregon is not open for business to illegal cannabis grows,” said Boyle. “These are criminal enterprises that deplete water resources while our state is in drought, hold their workforce in inhumane conditions and severely harm our legal cannabis marketplace.”

In December 2021, Gov. Brown passed Senate Bill 893, which provided $25 million to help fund state law enforcement and local community organizations fight against illegal cultivation. Sen. Jeff Golden, who supported the measure, explained the harms of illegal cannabis cultivation both for the environment, as well as legal growers. “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 said last year.

Oregon has also become home to legislation that will soon allow legal psilocybin therapy programs. The first set of rules will take effect in January 2023, with the rest being finalized by Dec. 31, 2023. However, a few regions of Oregon, such as Linn County, have approved or are considering banning psilocybin treatment centers. Individuals such as Linn County Commissioner Roger Nyquist expressed concerns of potential harm. “My fear is of young people taking mushrooms and going out and doing things that may cost them their life,” Nyquist said. “I just think it’s appropriate to refer this measure to the voters in Linn County and allow them to have a say in this, particularly because they did not vote to support this measure in the first place.”

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Oregon Psilocybin Rules Set To Be Finalized in December

The Oregon Health Authority’s Oregon Psilocybin Services Section is currently working on finalizing a regulatory framework to manage psilocybin legalization. While currently partnering with the Psilocybin Advisory Board, these rules are expected to be released by Dec. 31, 2022, as license applications will open up starting on Jan. 2, 2023.

The culmination of regulating psilocybin is two years in the making, according to Angie Allbee, a Section Manager for Oregon Psilocybin Services. “Ballot Measure 109, otherwise known as the Oregon Psilocybin Services Act, was passed by Oregon voters in November of 2020,” Allbee told KGW8. “What it did was create a licensing and regulatory framework for the production of psilocybin products and the provision of psilocybin services in Oregon. This is available to individuals 21 years of age or older, that would like to access psilocybin services. It does not need a prescription or a referral from a provider.”

These rules will be the first of its kind in the country, and could serve as a template for other states who follow suit.

Allbee clarified that under these rules, patients can’t just take home psilocybin as medication, but they will consume it in a controlled environment while being monitored by licensed practitioners. “Psilocybin products will be sold to the clients, and that’s where the psilocybin services, the actual journey takes place,” Allbee said.

Psychotherapist Tom Eckert, who has long been a psilocybin advocate, has been an integral part of supporting psilocybin services for Oregon patients. KGW8 mentioned that he and his late wife have campaigned for access since 2015.

Eckert explained that the process is unique. “Most of the action is internal and that can be different for different folks because we come to this experience with our own stuff,” said Eckert. “So that’s kind of the neat thing about psilocybin and the experience of psilocybin as a therapeutic agent, it kind of goes where it needs to go.”

Ultimately, Eckert believes that the success of the entire program hinges on specialists who can help treat the individual needs of each patient. “I’ve always thought that the beating heart of this whole program is the practitioners, the facilitators,” Eckert said, “We need competent, trained practitioners to really understand this specific modality.”

While officials finalize these details, there are some cities in Oregon that do not want to allow psilocybin services. The Clackamas County Commissioners voted in July to temporarily ban psilocybin, and voters in Linn County will be able to vote on an approval to also ban psilocybin later this year in November.

 On a larger scale, “Right to Try Clarification Act” was recently introduced by Sen. Cory Booker and Rand Paul. If passed, restrictions for substances that are included in the Controlled Substances Act would not apply to psilocybin and MDMA, as long as a Phase 1 clinical trial has been completed. In action, this would allow terminally ill patients the opportunity to use these substances for medical treatment. “As a physician, I know how important Right to Try is for patients facing a life-threatening condition,” Paul said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the federal bureaucracy continues to block patients seeking to use Schedule I drugs under Right to Try. I’m proud to lead this bipartisan legislation with Sen. Booker that will get government out of the way and give doctors more resources to help patients.”

Psilocybin, like cannabis, is quickly being accepted as a medical treatment alternative. Numerous studies have released, and suggest evidence that psilocybin can act as an anti-depressant. Another study from July claims that it can boost “mood and health.” Another study based on South Africa in June found that it was especially effective in women with HIV and depression.

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Oregon’s Illicit Cannabis Market is Booming

When Oregonians voted to legalize cannabis in 2014, there were high hopes for a thriving legal industry in the Beaver State—and an end to big police raids on growers. Over the past three years, however, a market glut has driven prices down in the legal sector. At the same time, law enforcement has repeatedly carried out raids on impressively large illicit operations—especially in the south of the state. What explains this illicit cannabis market paradox?

Huge Illicit Operations

An overview of some recent raids in Southern Oregon—especially the adjacent counties of Josephine, Jackson and Klamath—quickly makes clear the scope of the situation. 

On July 6, the Josephine Marijuana Enforcement Team (JMET) served search warrants at two properties in Wolf Creek, uncovering some 14,000 cannabis plants in multiple greenhouses and indoor grow facilities. The JMET said detectives also found about 7,000 pounds of processed marijuana. Two people, identified as Chen Fengzhi and Liang Shao, were arrested. 

Cannabis found by Josephine Marijuana Enforcement Team (JMET) at Wolf Creek, Oregon. PHOTO Josephine County Sheriff’s Office

On June 23, the JMET joined with the Oregon State Police Drug Enforcement Section to execute a search warrant in Cave Junction, confiscating 3,944 plants in seven “industrial-sized” greenhouses.

On June 22, the JMET raided a property in Grants Pass, seizing 700 plants and 2,500 pounds of processed marijuana, as well as a pound-and-a-half of methamphetamine and multiple firearms. A man identified as Tung Ming Chen was arrested.

On June 8, the JMET and Rogue Area Drug Enforcement (RADE) team searched properties outside Selma, finding some 22,000 plants in 34 greenhouses. One man, Juan Valdovinos Tafolla, was arrested, and several others “temporarily detained for officer safety,” the Sheriff’s Office said. In addition to marijuana offenses, Valdovinos Tafolla was slapped with charges of “appropriation of water,” for allegedly using a pump to divert water from a nearby creek. 

Last harvest season saw a spate of impressively big raids. 

On Nov. 18, the Oregon State Police seized an estimated 500,000 pounds of processed marijuana in Jackson County’s White City. More than 100 people were temporarily detained. Many were migrant workers living on site in “subpar living conditions without running water.”

On Sept. 14, the Basin Interagency Narcotics Enforcement Team (BINET) in Klamath County raided a large marijuana grow operation near the town of Bonanza, reportedly destroying more than 50,000 plants.

State of Emergency in Jackson County 

Jackson County actually declared a “state of emergency” on Oct. 1, with commissioners formally calling on Gov. Kate Brown to deploy the National Guard to help shut down illegal cannabis market’s grow operations. 

The Board of Commissioners said local law enforcement was overwhelmed and warned of an “imminent threat to the public health and safety of our citizens from the illegal production of cannabis in our county.” 

The Oregon Legislature held hearings on the question Nov. 16, taking testimony from law enforcement and licensed cannabis growers alike. Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler attributed a local spike in violent crime to the profusion of illegal grow operations.

“We’ve had stabbings, robberies, thefts, burglaries, homicides, sex crimes, motor vehicle accidents, DUIs, all related to the influx of the marijuana-cannabis industry in our in our valley,” Sickler said. “It’s certainly an issue we deal with on a daily basis here.” 

Local authorities especially stressed illegal water use by outlaw growers—a particularly pressing concern amid a megadrought across the Western states. 

study on the question by the Cannabis Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, found: “Because peak water demand for cannabis occurs in the dry season, when streamflow is at its lowest levels, even small diversions can dry streams and harm aquatic plants and animals.”

The Oregon Water Resources Department has only four full-time employees to handle complaints in Jackson and Josephine counties, and their workload is rapidly backing up.

Cartel Involvement, Maybe

Media and law enforcement are increasingly raising fears up of a heavy presence of organized crime and even foreign drug cartels in Oregon’s illicit cannabis market.

In January, Politico up ran an in-depth look at the question, finding: “Over the last two years, there’s been such an influx of outlaw farmers that southern Oregon now rivals California’s notorious Emerald Triangle as a national center of illegal weed cultivation.” Jackson County’s Sheriff Sickler was cited as putting the number of illicit grow operations in the region at upwards of 1,000. The Oregon Liquor & Cannabis Commission (OLCC), which oversees the state’s legal industry, places the number of illicit cannabis market grow operations statewide at double that. 

The Politico account stressed fears by local law enforcement that international organized crime has targeted the region as a center of outlaw cultivation: “Cartels roll in and offer long-time residents as much as a million dollars in cash for their property, and hoop houses follow soon after the sale is complete. Residents have become accustomed to hearing Bulgarian, Chinese, Russian and Hebrew spoken at the grocery store.” 

“Two weeks ago, we took down a Bulgarian operation and in the same week an Argentinian operation,” Josephine County Sheriff Dave Daniel told Politico, adding that his office has also recently dealt with Chinese and Mexican-run operations. 

But recent arrests have included seemingly “respectable” executives accused of covering for the illicit cannabis market. 

Last October, John A. Magliana III, scion of a prominent Oregon family, pleaded guilty in US District Court in Medford to a felony charge of possession with intent to distribute marijuana, admitting that he managed an unlicensed Selma grow operation that produced for the out-of-state market. Links to a distribution ring in Indiana were claimed. 

That same month, the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office arrested a Grants Pass realtor on charges of arranging purchases of property for illegal cultivation. Tyra Polly Ann Foxx of RE/MAX real estate agency is accused of conducting more than two dozen such transactions, converting ownership of properties from individuals to LLCs in order to cover illegal activity.  

And, playing right into conservative fears and stereotypes, the OLCC reported in September that some licensed hemp farms in the region are actually producing marijuana. In an audit dubbed “Operation Table Rock” (after a volcanic plateau in the region), the OLCC and the Oregon Department of Agriculture tested plants at 212 registered hemp grows in Jackson and Josephine counties. No less than 54% were found to be growing illegal cannabis. There were another 76 farms that declined to allow inspectors on the property, and a further 23 where inspectors were unable to establish contact. 

“I believe from my experience down there, there are more illicit grow operations than there are registered grows,” said Richard Evans, OLCC senior director for licensing and compliance, speaking to local Jefferson Public Radio

Adjoining these counties on the south is Northern California’s Siskiyou County, where ethnic tensions are rising following similar hype about foreign cartel involvement in cannabis cultivation. Hmong immigrants from Laos have been getting in on the cannabis economy—sparking a xenophobic backlash, and blatantly racially targeted enforcement. This, in turn, has sparked protests by Hmong residents.

This points to the potential for ugliness if the situation in Southern Oregon continues in its dystopian trajectory. 

Sweetening the Legal Sector

The Politico account contained one passage that cut to the heart of the dilemma: “Oregon’s weed is some of the cheapest in the nation, and Oregonians predominantly purchase weed from licensed dispensaries. But most of the illicit weed grown in southern Oregon is leaving the state, heading to places where legal weed is still not available for purchase such as New York or Pennsylvania—or where the legal price is still very high, like Chicago and Los Angeles.” 

The OLCC has taken some steps to lift the regulatory burden on the legal sector, which could help make it more competitive. Late last year, the agency promulgated changes that double both the purchasing limit on cannabis flower and the THC maximum for edibles and extracts. As of Jan. 1, customers may buy two ounces of weed at a time—up from one ounce. As of April 1, THC limits for edibles increased from 50 to 100 milligrams per package, and that for extracts from 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams per package.

Very significantly, home delivery is now permitted across municipal and county lines—with the approval of local authorities. Previously, dispensaries were limited to deliveries within the locality where the retailer was located.

But whether these welcome measures are sufficient to meet the enormity of the illicit cannabis market problem is dubious at best. Industry advocates have been pressing for a legal interstate market to relieve the glut in Oregon’s licensed sector. As long as licensed producers are confined to an in-state market, it’s hard to see how they can compete with illicit producers bound by no such restrictions.

This points to the necessity of a national market in order for legalization to really be effective at bringing cannabis in from the cold. Proposals have been floated even by state governors for a “common market” among states that have legalized. Whether the federal government will acquiesce in this, of course, is the big question.

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Portland Weed Demand Hits Three-Year Low

According to an Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission (OLCC) database, Portland, Oregon area pot sales hit the lowest number of sales in three years. However, some experts blame the drop in sales on the temporary pandemic hump.

In June 2022, retail cannabis shops across Multnomah County, the state’s most populous area, made the lowest monthly profit they have since early 2019—hitting just $27,000 on average.

The price of cannabis flower is the lowest it’s been since April 2019. The county’s average gram sells for just $4.29 a gram—quite a bit lower than you’d find in most other states. Some have blamed the drop in value on Oregon’s oversupply problem, while others say the state’s oversupply problem wasn’t quite so bad as reported.

Portland residents bought $21 million worth of flower in July 2020, in the middle of the pandemic—and it was the most cannabis ever purchased in the state in a single month.

In general, cannabis sales increased at a steady pace since they began in 2016, but they skyrocketed in 2020, partly due to working from home and stimulus checks. In the span of only five months, cannabis sales in the county  increased by 79%. On average, cannabis shops raked in $48,000 per month in Multnomah County during the month of July 2020. But sales plunged shortly after, marking the lowest number recorded since June 2019.

Willamette Week profiled business owners in Portland who confirmed the stagnant sales.

Bret Born is owner of Northeast Portland-based cannabis shop Ascend, and acknowledged the drop in demand. “No one’s selling anything, which means no one’s buying anything,” Born told Willamette Week. “Vendors and shops are saying that this isn’t a gangbuster summer. Leading into the fall and winter, we could really be looking at tough times.”

Director of Analytics and Research for the OLCC, TJ Sheehy, said that besides the years of 2020 and 2021, 2022, which he believes was an anomaly, the sales trend is actually on course with the consumption trends dating to 2019.

“We had a big pandemic bump, but that has proved ephemeral. Now we’re back to normal,” Sheehy says. “But because we had that COVID-19 bump, businesses were responding to that when making their planting decisions, so that exacerbated the higher-supply issue.”

In addition, it turns out that a lot of people who could work at home found they also had more time to smoke weed, and many of the jobs are returning back to jobs at the office, so it’s not feasible anymore.

Beau Whitney, of research firm Whitney Economics, said that many Oregonians are suddenly finding they can no longer “work from stoned.”

“We’re pretty far away from stimulus payments with COVID-19, and inflation has crept up. I feel like, for a lot of people, cannabis dollars are discretionary dollars,” said Mason Walker, co-owner and CEO of East Fork Cultivars in Takilma. “People are tightening their belts a little bit.”

“I think everyone in the industry is feeling the slump right now and trying to figure out if it’s a temporary or permanent thing,” Walker said.

Equity efforts in the area remain strong. In May 2020, Dasheeda Dawson was named cannabis program supervisor for Portland, Oregon’s Office of Community and Civic Life. And even amid the pandemic, Dawson oversaw a social equity program and encountered newer challenges.

Despite the temporary drop in sales, slow and steady growth can be seen in the big picture of the viability of Portland’s cannabis market.

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Oregon County Proposes Ban on Psilocybin Therapy

Local leaders in Linn County, Oregon are advancing a proposal that would ban psilocybin therapy centers authorized by a statewide ballot measure legalizing the therapeutic use of psychedelic mushrooms. Under a proposal adopted by the Linn County Board of Commissioners last week, a ballot measure banning psilocybin production, manufacturing, and therapy facilities will appear before voters in the November 2022 general election.

In 2020, Oregon voters approved Measure 109, Oregon Psilocybin Services Act, a bill that legalized the therapeutic use of psilocybin. State officials are currently drafting regulations to enact the legislation, which authorizes centers where trained facilitators dispense psilocybin for therapeutic purposes.

Under Measure 109, local jurisdictions such as counties, cities, and towns were given the authority to regulate psilocybin therapy centers or refer a decision on the issue to voters in the community. On June 21, the three-member board of commissioners voted to put a measure banning the psilocybin therapy centers in Linn County before voters in this year’s general election.

“My fear is of young people taking mushrooms and going out and doing things that may cost them their life,” Linn County Commissioner Roger Nyquist told the Albany Democrat-Herald.

“I just think it’s appropriate to refer this measure to the voters in Linn County and allow them to have a say in this, particularly because they did not vote to support this measure in the first place,” he added.

Commissioner Will Tucker said that he is concerned that first responders will not be able to reach the scene quickly enough if a patient receiving psilocybin therapy in the remote county in central Oregon has a medical emergency.

“I have people who are miles and miles from a service like a grocery store,” he told Filter.

Tucker noted that if passed, the ballot measure would only apply to the unincorporated areas of Linn County. The proposal would not affect the incorporated cities and towns in the county including the largest city, Albany, although local officials there are considering a similar ban on psilocybin therapy centers. 

“I would love to see it done carefully and in controlled ways,” Tucker said. “My son suffers PTSD; an Iraq War sniper, he has 100 percent disability … If there’s a way his mental health can be affected by marijuana or other drugs including mushrooms, I’d be all for it.”

Few Counties Moving To Ban Psilocybin Therapy Centers

Evan Segura, president of the Portland Psychedelic Society, says that it does not appear that counties taking steps to ban psilocybin therapy is becoming a trend. But at least one county along the Idaho border, Malheur County, has proposed a ban. He noted that the jurisdiction is already the home to several cannabis dispensaries that draw customers from neighboring states that have not yet legalized cannabis.

“I think these counties are anticipating there will be a huge wave of interest from Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, jumping over the state border to access psilocybin services,” Segura said. “These conservative counties are just not interested in being guinea pigs for this program, and I’m sure there’s a lot of drug-war prohibitionist hysteria that’s causing fear for them.”

Statewide, Oregon voters approved Measure 109 in the 2020 general election with 56% of ballots cast in favor of the initiative and 44% against. But in rural Linn County, only 45% of the electorate voted in favor of psilocybin therapy centers while 55% opposed the ballot measure. Statewide, 21 of 36 Oregon voted against Measure 109, although the initiative’s success in more populous counties secured its passage.

Linn County Commissioner Sherrie Sprenger said she does not believe Measure 109 will achieve the stated goal of curbing the illicit market for psilocybin, an argument made for legalizing cannabis that she characterizes as “naive and ill-informed.”

“The situation many rural folks in Oregon find themselves in frequently is this idea that our voice wasn’t heard and our voice wasn’t taken into consideration,” Sprenger said. “Sometimes we feel like the metropolitan areas, i.e. Portland and Eugene, make decisions for the rest of us. Local voters need to have a say in their own community.”

Segura said that many of those opposed to psilocybin therapy centers are concerned that someone will get behind the wheel of an automobile immediately after an all-day session, particularly those who might not have the means to afford overnight accommodations. But he does not see a significant risk in the argument.

“I think that situation is extremely rare,” Segura said. “I think if people can afford the session, they can afford a hotel, if not just stay at a service center that provides lodging. I think there’s minimal risk of someone going to do psilocybin then getting in their car and driving away.”

“We don’t ever hear of stories of people eating mushrooms and then doing something dangerous,” Segura added. “We would hear more of it if it happened more often.”

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