In Deschutes County, cannabis has been a source of division between growers and long-time landowners in rural parts of the county, prompting contentious public hearings and anger on both sides. But for the Oregon Department of Agriculture, it’s mostly just another crop.
The Deschutes County Commission met with state agriculture representatives during a work session on Wednesday afternoon. The sit-down was the commission’s second in a series of meetings with state and local representatives, designed to solicit feedback from stakeholders as the commission reviews county rules around marijuana.
“We’re still learning too, and it seems like every legislative session, there’s a slight tweak,” said Sunny Jones, cannabis policy coordinator for the Agriculture Department.
Under Oregon law, growing cannabis is an agricultural activity, subject to state agriculture programs regarding water quality, food safety and pesticides, just as any crop would be, according to Jones.
Recreational and medical marijuana require approval from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and the Oregon Health Authority, respectively, and counties can enforce time, place and manner restrictions around growing the crop. However, Jones said growing hemp — the nonpsychoactive variant of the cannabis plant — requires only a $1,300 registration fee and a field-check from state agriculture officials to determine if the plant’s concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) exceeds 0.3 percent, the legal cutoff between marijuana and hemp.
Jim Johnson, land use and water planning coordinator for the state Agriculture Department, said during the meeting there are 72 licensed hemp growers in Oregon, and 37 licensed processors. Both numbers are expected to rise quickly in the upcoming year, however, as the industry continues to grow in Oregon after the state began accepting licenses to grow hemp in 2015.
Because the state recognizes hemp and marijuana as food products, edibles containing cannabidiol (CBD) or THC must meet the same standards that other food products do. As with any food product, Jones said manufacturing edibles requires a food-safety license.
And because cannabis is not legal at the federal level, Jones said there are no pesticides that are specifically labeled for marijuana. She added the state currently allows over 300 products for use on cannabis, based on criteria regarding their chemical composition, low toxicity and broad application.
A member of the public asked the growers what happens to hemp growers who sell marijuana on the black market. Johnson said this is an issue for local law enforcement, and Jones added that most growers she’s worked with make an effort to follow the rules.
“Most of the people that I’ve worked with in this industry, both marijuana and industrial hemp, the ones that are registering with the program, are trying to do the right thing,” Jones said. “They may make a mistake here and there … but they’re trying very hard to meet all of the rules.”
The county commission is also planning meetings with the Deschutes County law and code enforcement officials, and with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, scheduled for Monday and Jan. 29, respectively. Both meetings will be held at 1:30 p.m. in the Barnes and Sawyer Conference Room at 1300 NW Wall St., according to Matt Martin, senior planner for Deschutes County.
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