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Culture » Smoke Signals

Central Oregon's Bumper Crop May be Hemp



When your grandparents or neighbors in Central Oregon get riled up about a skunk smell in the air, it almost certainly isn't the wacky tobacky variety. It may simply be hemp—also a member of the cannabis family, but a crop that doesn't contain the mind-altering THC of marijuana.

That's because Deschutes is a boom county for industrial hemp, with the third-highest number of industrial hemp farms (behind Jackson and Josephine counties). Additionally, Oregon produces the third-greatest acreage of industrial hemp among U.S. states.

  • Courtesy Pixabay

That means, even from a national perspective, Central Oregon is a uniquely coveted destination for industrial hemp growers and processors. This, along with the recreational marijuana boom, has attracted new businesses to the area, and carved out niches within existing businesses.

One example of that is Root Engineers, a cannabis-focused division of ColeBreit Engineering in Bend. They're partnering with Deschutes Labs to construct a 6,000-square-foot hemp processing facility in Prineville. ColeBreit has provided plumbing, electrical and mechanical engineering services to Bend since 2013.

Despite hemp sitting atop of the Drug Enforcement Agency's list of controlled substances as recently as last year, Oregon has had a jumpstart on what many believe is the agricultural phenomenon of the future. Industrial hemp is either sold as flower, or processed into all manner of products, including cannabidiol (CBD) oils, lotions and CBD-infused food and drink.

"It's a beneficial product," said Matt Cyrus, a Central Oregon hemp grower and the Deschutes County Farm Bureau president. "I expect in 10 years to be a standard ingredient in everything from dog food to soft drinks."

Marijuana and the not-so-mean streets

Despite what the ramblings of the latest anti-weed gospel books or a casual view of portions of Murder Mountain may lead you to believe, marijuana doesn't tend to increase crime or corrupt youth when it becomes legal for recreational use. According to a recent Leafly report, teen use in states where cannabis became legal for adult use actually declined since an end to prohibition. Similarly, crime rates tend to remain flat or drop when dispensaries open in urban areas where marijuana is legal. The Leafly report stated, "In Washington, a 2018 study in JAMA Pediatrics reported the prevalence of cannabis use generally fell among Washington teens amid the adult-use retail sales launch of 2014 to 2016 when compared to the 2010 to 2012 period."

  • Courtesy Pixabay

Deschutes County public health officials, in a recent county board hearing, also demonstrated data to the Board of County Commissioners reflecting that juvenile use of marijuana dropped precipitously in the two years following legalization in Oregon.

Not only are states and counties with legalized marijuana safer for children and adults, but they're more prosperous, too. Single-family homes within .1 miles of a legal, recreational dispensary saw their property values increase 8 percent as compared to homes a bit farther away (.1 miles to .25 miles away). Further, municipalities that allow recreational marijuana stores saw an increase in housing values of 6 percent compared to cities that do not.

What could be driving these positive changes? The Leafly report opines that many dispensaries are refashioning older, industrial buildings that may have long been abandoned. Moreover, in every state with adult-use marijuana, extensive security requirements and exterior and interior security cameras are required, deterring would-be burglars and thieves. It could also be that legal marijuana sucks business from the black-market trade, and frees up police to monitor and interdict with regard to more serious crimes.

In other words, the paranoid fears of prohibitionists have not come to fruition. Quite the opposite. It will take decades (and more in-depth studies) to really pin down the positive and negative effects of the end of prohibition, but there are virtually no early signs that it is doing what the Reefer Madness crowd has predicted.

Frankly, the more that local politicians attempt to legislate the legal marijuana industry out of existence—or spend taxpayer dollars pointlessly fighting at the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals, the harder they're trying to spike any economic and public-safety gains made since prohibition in Oregon has ended.

It's time to say "yes" to a good thing.

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