Hemp And Cannabis in Southern Oregon Skirmish

As Oregon’s legal marijuana market goes official on July 1, 2015, two different aspects of cannabis agriculture are at odds.

Some of the world’s finest wines are produced from grapes grown in southern Oregon. In nearby fields, some of the planet’s choicest cannabis strains benefit from the same climate. The medical marijuana plants appear like small trees, protruding with arm-sized buds worth big money when harvested, dried and trimmed.

Cannabis Bud

Cannabis Flower Without Seeds

The aromatic female cannabis flowers glisten as they await the wind-borne arrival of pollen from male cannabis so they can produce seeds and complete their reproductive cycle. But the pollen never arrives, as growers are quick to uproot any male plants. Pollination would ruin the monetary and medical value of the crop as surely as a late season hail storm. Sinsemilla (Spanish for “without seed”) cannabis can sell for up to two thousand dollars a pound; seeded marijuana has no market value.

Industrial hemp

Industrial hemp crop.

Now a new player is entering the Oregon cannabis agriculture: hemp. Like medically valuable sinsemilla, hemp is also marijuana, cannabis sativa. Unlike sinsemilla, hemp is grown for the seeds; they are the most valuable part of the hemp crop, although the entire plant is useful in dozens of ways. Indeed, hemp seeds themselves and the oil produced from them are arguably the world’s most nutritious food. They are sources of essential oils and proteins that our bodies cannot produce themselves, and they provide perfectly balanced omega 3 fatty acids, excellent nutrition for brain and body. If you were abandoned on a desert island with the choice of one food, hemp seeds might be your single best pick.

Currently, Americans seeking these health benefits must import their hemp seeds from Canada, from sources such as Manitoba Harvest, with its best-selling food, Hemp Hearts. But now the American hemp industry is getting underway, with several states (including Kentucky, Colorado and Oregon) passing new legislation legalizing hemp cultivation . Federally, new legislation and conservative Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell have been instrumental in furthering hemp agriculture and pressured the DEA when it held up hemp seed shipments from Italy in 2014. Getting these low-THC seeds remains a challenge to American hemp growers.

Now hemp agriculture is coming to southern Oregon, a development disturbing to sinsemilla cannabis growers. An Eagle Point, Oregon, farmer, Edgar Winters, has applied to grow 25 acres of hemp in Jackson County not far from many cannabis crops. Three other hemp growing applications are in the works. Many growers fear pollen from male hemp plants will drift on the wind and pollinate their costly and valuable female buds, making them worthless both financially and medically. Is this a valid concern? “Yes,” says advocate and Oregon State University hemp course teacher Anndrea Hermann , as quoted by Noelle Crombie on her Oregonian OregonLive reporting on the issue. “There is a risk to marijuana growers.”

Winters, a medical marijuana grower himself, downplays the risk, citing a shorter growing season and earlier harvest for hemp. It will be interesting to see how his medical marijuana crop does next year if it grows next to 25 acres of pollen-producing hemp. A down-wind test plot would be an interesting and telling experiment. We should be getting some good answers, as the entire operation will be well documented by Doug Fine, author of Hemp Bound and Too High to Fail, for his next book.

Intriguingly, southern Oregon cannabis growers have political clout: Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, a long-time friend of medical cannabis in Oregon, responded to numerous emails from outdoor growers worried about their livelihoods and life’s work. Medical users worry about their medicine being wiped out by pollination.

Some of the highest value and most medically useful cannabis crops in southern Oregon are now from CBD predominant strains, which are especially useful medically because of their low psychoactivity and the wide range of conditions they help. There are dozens of medical uses, including calming childhood epilepsy and providing palliative care for cancer. It would indeed be tragic if hemp pollen were to destroy even one CBD medical grow. These concerns could involve solutions such as placing geographic restrictions on planting hemp, for example, to the east side of the Cascade Mountains, zoning west side sinsemilla growers would like.

How do you think hemp versus cannabis agriculture will play out in southern Oregon and elsewhere?

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