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DON’T SMOKE THE MESSENGER: “Marijuana” or Hemp? Oregon Can’t Afford Anymore Confusion

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If you’ve read previous columns you know my disdain for the word “marijuana” as it has been used in recent U.S. history. The usurping of a colloquial Mexican term by government and economic power-players in the U.S. with the evil intentions of utilizing race to gain further economic gain and social control does not sit well with me. (See Jack Herer’s, The Emperor Wears No Clothes for a full history.) 

Today even the United States government perpetuates the confusion by utilizing the unscientific term, “Marijuana” to draw arbitrary distinctions within the genus. (See 1976 article, “A Practical Taxonomy in Cannabis” to see how the 0.3 percent definition was created to differentiate between “hemp” and “marijuana.”)

The truth of the matter is they are both the same plant: Cannabis sativa L. For this column, I distinguish between the industries by referring to either “hemp” or “high-THC cannabis.”

Why does this matter to Oregon? Because we aren’t just hemp farmers. We aren’t just marijuana farmers. We are cannabis farmers. The beaver state relies heavily on the cannabis economy, be it hemp or high-THC cannabis, and we need to dissolve this dichotomy and work together to stabilize both nascent industries in order to ensure a healthy future for both. 

Over the last couple of years, as the OLCC-regulated, high-THC cannabis economy in Oregon tanked amidst a flooded new market, the ODA’s hemp program became a life-saver for many cannabis farmers who have always grown high-THC—whether for the black, medical or adult-use markets. And as an entire country of new hemp farmers is trying to unload their recent harvest in a–you guessed it—flooded market, it’s the same story of struggle all over again, but at a larger scale since hemp happens in acres, not square feet. 

Yet I believe we should be high on hope for Oregon’s cannabis economy. We have one of the most advanced cannabis industries in the world here—starting with growing some of the best flower—whether hemp or high-THC. Good sungrown cannabis flower comes from Mediterranean climates like ours. We’ve been showing that for decades with a cannabis industry that has traditionally helped California supply the whole country with good weed.

However, we must work to protect that niche market. It is special. The country demands our products. And we could do some serious harm to them if we aren’t careful about our regulations. For example, in Southern Oregon, unculled male plants and cross-pollination from new hemp fields became a huge issue for cannabis farms in 2019, whether for the hemp, adult-use/medical markets or for home grows. There must be regulations in place that protect the future of hemp and high-THC cannabis flower in Oregon. 

We’re disjointed and moving too fast. Sure, OSU has created the Global Hemp Innovation Center which bolsters Oregon’s place on the world stage. However, the industry happens in the Southern part of the state, away from funding and decision-making. 

According to F.A.R.M.S. Inc. (a local farmer run non-profit), OSU and the Hemp Innovation Center are calling for OPEN POLLINATION! That would be bad for Oregon cannabis. It’s fine for fiber, etc. but would threaten the unique product that Oregon offers, unseeded flower. This jeopardizing issue illustrates the need to work together as one industry to secure the regional brand of all Oregon cannabis. 

Here is my call to people who care. It’s a call to educate ourselves. It’s a call to meet each other and talk. It’s a call to contact your regulators and lawmakers with your concerns and constructive input. It’s a call to maintain Oregon’s reputation for growing the best cannabis in the world. Let’s drop the confusion and be industry leaders!

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