(Photo: Molly J. Smith, Statesman Journal)
SALEM, Ore. — Marijuana leaves of all shapes and sizes lined a competition alcove at the Oregon State Fairgrounds on Saturday. The plants were surrounded by hundreds of booths listing technology, agriculture and business innovations in the cannabis growing industry.
“People say we’ve ‘Microsofted’ the cannabis industry,” joked organizer Mary Lou Burton.
The weekend even was the first marijuana growers fair in Oregon, hosted at the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem. Sponsored by the state marijuana business council, and with presentations from state agencies regulating the newly legalized industry, it highlighted a number of desires from Oregon entrepreneurs and businesses to turn the state into a go-to region for marijuana.
“It’s no longer a black market. It’s a burgeoning market,” said Caleb Hoffman of Colorado. He said he reserved a hotel room for the weekend to attend the fair, to draw inspiration from state innovators.
Saturday afternoon, the fair also hosted the first cannabis live plant competition in the state, featuring 51 leafy plants. Five judges led by Ed Rosenthal, the styled “guru of ganja” by admirers, picked out nine winners for sativa, hybrid and indica varieties.
Several of the winners came from the outskirts of Salem. Danny Grimm and Nathan Martinez hugged after the winning results, and proudly displayed blue ribbons.
The two men, with the cannabis farm Uplifted, won first in two categories, boasting honed indica and sativa plants.
They say they are planning to switch to pure recreational marijuana grows in a few months, and are signing a lease on a new 50,000-square-foot facility, in place of their local 5,000-foot facility.
“I’ve been growing plants for 12 years,” said Grimm. “It’s basically trial and error. It has molded our company into what it is today.”
Portland winner Daniel DeMeulle, whose stocky offering placed first in the hybrid category, is a home grower. He decided to enter the competition “on a whim,” and has been honing techniques from online tutorials.
“The internet, books, trial and error. That’s about it,” DeMeulle said.
The winning plants will resurface at the fairgrounds for the Oregon State Fair in two weeks. Due to controversy with the 4-H, and concern from parents that their kids might get hold of the leafy plants, they will be featured in a separate greenhouse guarded by volunteers, who will card onlookers, only admitting people ages 21 and older.
The upbeat nature of the fair contrasted with a recent ruling from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
On Thursday, the DEA announced it will keep marijuana illegal for any purpose on the federal level, retaining its standing as a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act.
Fair administrators found this was a deterrent before the fair. Because of the illegal federal standing, FCC regulations kept them from advertising the event.
Instead, they put a “mobile billboard” on a car to draw in passersby.
Several growers and organizers said they hoped the federal deterrent might keep the Oregon industry out of the hands of big businesses.
Already, the Oregon Department of Revenue estimates the government will take in $43 million from pot taxes this year.
“We have hurdles to jump through,” said Burton. “But where we’re at right now is our silver lining. We’re going to have a couple more years before the big boys come on board.”