By Ted Shorack

The Bulletin

A future Central Oregon attraction may not be another craft brewery, but a marijuana grow site where tourists can pick up samples and see how the formerly illegal cannabis plant is cultivated.

Portland will likely be the primary destination for marijuana tourism in Oregon, but Bend and Central Oregon could also see an influx with visitors combining their trips to grow sites with other amenities the region has to offer. The ability for tour companies to operate and offer something like the Bend Ale Trail or a vineyard-style tour is contingent on rulemaking currently being considered by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and state legislators.

“Tourism will be part of this new marijuana economy,” said Tom Towslee, a spokesman for the OLCC. “Just exactly what that’s going to look like remains to be seen.”

Recreational growers won’t be able to obtain licenses from the OLCC until early 2016, and storefronts selling recreational pot aren’t expected to begin operating until late 2016. Oregon lawmakers are still debating legislation that is expected to tweak Measure 91, which legalized pot in Oregon and will go into effect on July 1.

Although still nascent in Colorado and Washington, marijuana tourism has taken off since those states legalized recreational pot. Medical and recreational shops in Colorado sold about $700 million worth of marijuana in 2014, according to data from the Colorado Department of Revenue. Last year was the first for recreational sales in addition to medical. That translated into about $76 million in tax revenue in 2014 for Colorado.

In Colorado and Washington, lavish tours can be purchased to visit growing facilities with a minibus or limousine picking customers up from the airport.

Some of the additional options include cannabis cooking classes or a “cannabis-friendly” acrylic painting class and other workshops.

Kush Tourism LLC, a company based in Seattle, offers a tour of one of the largest allowable growing facilities licensed by the state located in Seattle. The building encompasses 21,000 square feet and 3,000 marijuana plants.

Chase Nobles, founder and co-owner of the company, said Oregon is on his radar and Kush Tourism is already exploring potential tours and lodging here.

“We are full steam ahead for Portland specifically and all of Oregon in general,” said Nobles.

Nobles said the tours his company offers have had customers from Iceland, Switzerland, New Zealand and Russia. Many come from the East Coast as well, he said.

“Tours are happening every day of the week sometimes,” Nobles said. “We’re doing tours constantly.

“It’s just really exciting that we’re at the forefront of this whole movement and creating what the future is going to look like.”

While Central Oregon may be a location for large commercial growing operations, a major selling point could be production on a smaller, “craft” scale, similar to the breweries the region is known for.

“It’s quickly going to become like breweries in Central Oregon and become a tourist thing,” said Joseph Escobar, a medical marijuana grower.

Escobar, who started Pangaea Organics more than a year ago, grows for 16 patients through the Oregon Health Authority. Although the company will always grow for medical purposes, Escobar said he and his business partner have discussed selling recreational marijuana. It depends, however, on what recreational licensing will ultimately entail.

“We’ve got to really be paying attention to the rules and regulations until things are set in stone,” said Escobar.

Escobar said his business aims to model itself after Deschutes Brewery in contrast to, say, Anheuser-Busch and Budweiser.

“Our model is craft cannabis products, as in more like a small batch,” he said. The company uses all organic nutrients and no synthetic fertilizers.

The local company began growing at a 2,000-square-foot facility in October and has used one-third of the space so far, he said, with plans to grow and evolve in the future.

How marijuana tourism will fit with current Central Oregon attractions such as mountain biking, kayaking and skiing remains to be seen.

James Jaggard, general manager for Wanderlust Tours in Bend, said the company was approached by medical dispensaries a year ago to see if they’d be interested in offering tours.

Jaggard said as the market develops a marijuana-themed tour is something the company will look at, but it’s not on the horizon yet.

“I wouldn’t say it’s something we won’t do, but we have other focuses right now,” he said.

As the marijuana industry grows, Jaggard also said much of the draw will be to the smaller-scale production that tends to drive interest in the local craft beer and coffee scene.

“I think that’s the fuel that really draws our beer and coffee tours,” Jaggard said. “For a destination, there would need to be that homegrown feel.”

Visit Bend, an organization funded by the city to promote local tourism, doesn’t expect to divert considerable resources into marketing the city as a destination for marijuana.

“At this point, we have no plans to promote Bend as a recreational marijuana destination,” Doug LaPlaca, president and CEO of Visit Bend, wrote in an email. “We don’t have any moral or ethical problem with it, we just don’t see it as a leading competitive advantage for Bend’s tourism industry.”

LaPlaca said while the organization doesn’t plan to focus on marijuana tourism, Visit Bend will help marijuana-related businesses that would like to be marketed to tourists.

“Visit Bend will provide them with the same level of marketing support that we’d give to any tourism-related business,” he said. “That’s our job.”

One of the biggest impediments to a vineyard-style tour could be the distinctions between grower and seller in Oregon. Medical marijuana dispensaries can’t operate at a grow site. If regulated the same way, recreational growers could be left without the option of a vineyard set-up or something similar to a brewpub tasting room.

“We can’t speculate about where marijuana might be sold, nor what types of venues will be allowable,” Sadie Carney, rural policy analyst with Department of Land Conservation and Development, wrote in an email. “There is the potential that rulemaking will be used to clarify these issues.”

“Anybody that wants to grow or sell marijuana recreationally is going to need a license and those will come with certain restrictions and provisions,” Towslee said.

Another major hang-up could be the limitations on when and where marijuana can be used. Measure 91 restricts use in public spaces, which is defined as “a place to which the general public has access.”

“The basis of Measure 91 is that all of this takes place as personal and private use, and that public consumption would be prohibited,” Towslee said. “The intent of the law is pretty clear that there not be public consumption of marijuana.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, tshorack@bendbulletin.com

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