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Culture » Smoke Signals

Opposing Views

A column on recent Oregon legislative bills has many on the defensive


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Two weeks ago I wrote a column about two Oregon legislative bills, one that had just been signed into law, the other was imminent in passage. I looked at what these bills might mean for the medical and recreational-use communities, and my take on the good and bad in both.

A very small portion of the readership had a very big problem with my conclusions, leading to angry five-minute voicemails, War and Peace-length responses, and some rather ugly insults and accusations.

Although I'm missing the gene that makes me care about being cursed at by trolls, I wanted to get another take. I don't grow or retail cannabis in Oregon, so I sought input from those who do.

I phoned and texted John Sajo, director of the Umpqua Cannabis Association, who left the aforementioned voicemail, and offered him half this column to explain why he was so "offended" by what I had written. He never replied, but did write a lengthy retort on social media.

I also reached out to my friend, Jesse Peters, the CEO of Eco Firma farms, which added a rec grow earlier this year, as his med and rec grows couldn't be co-located. Jesse is a no- bullshit former Marine who works 54 hours a week as a firefighter in addition to running Eco Firma, and has greater insight than I do.

I asked for his viewpoint on what has become a rapidly polarized growing community.

"The majority of growers in Oregon are small businesses, with a handful that are big players funded by out-of-state money, but most are simply Oregonian business owners, which happen to grow and sell cannabis," he said. "And med and rec users have both sunk tremendous money into their operations. Hell, most of us started as med growers who begged and borrowed to participate in a rec system that none of us are thrilled about. We are all worried about our livelihoods, and that's fair."

I asked Jesse about the 20 pounds that med growers will soon be allowed to sell into the rec market through wholesalers and processors, and if that's a concern for him.

"I don't want med growers to be able to sell just 20 lbs. I want them to be able to sell unlimited amounts, DIRECTLY to dispensaries, I just want that dispensary to only be allowed to sell that med flower to med patients. Patients need access, but med and rec need to stay in their respective lanes to keep the playing field fair, she said. "

"As far as med growers being burdened by high fees, that's true, but rec are burdened by additional fees, such as high security system costs. I still have a medical grow, by the way, with every last gram given away at no charge, and that operation is losing money each and every month. I operate that grow at a loss.

"Everyone is attacking each other, when our real issues rest with the state, and not each other," he sighed. "We all have more in common than we do in opposition to one another. That said, while it's difficult to run both a medical and recreational farm, I still also have a job, and a schedule like this doesn't afford me the opportunity to attack people on Facebook 48 times a day. This leaves me curious; for a very few, is this more about lifestyle and livelihood than it truly is about patients and access?"

I asked Jesse what he sees as a solution.

"I'd love to see the state subsidize medical growers with a stipend, such as what you would find on an insurance plan. Cannabis is medicine, and we should be doing more to help patients while seeking to support med growers.

"Our shared issue is massive oversupply," Jesse concludes. "We need to find a way to work together, and to put pressure on the state to help make both systems fair for patients and consumers."

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