With the regulations for both medical and recreational cannabis in a constant state of flux, the Oregon SunGrown Growers’ Guild was established in 2014 as a nonprofit advocacy group for growers and patients.
Guild president Peter Gendron, better known as “Pioneer Pete” to the many industry members of southern Oregon, recently spoke with SunGrower & Greenhouse about the state of cannabis regulations and how the trade association benefits members. In addition to being president of the Oregon SunGrown Growers’ Guild, he’s also a member of the Oregon Industrial Hemp Farmers Association, giving him a broad perspective of the entire cannabis industry.
SunGrower: What was the purpose behind starting a trade association specifically for sun-grown cannabis producers?
Peter Gendron: We really started because, as growers, we felt like we needed representation for our excellent-quality sun-grown product. We saw complications at the state level with patients and growers and their relationships with each other and the Oregon Health Authority. This was all prior to Measure 91, so legalization wasn’t yet part of the template. It was just looking at grower-patient relationships and advocating for environmental best practices.
SunGrower: Where does the Oregon SunGrown Growers’ Guild stand on greenhouse production?
PG: We have quite a few members who are greenhouse growers. Greenhouses are primarily sun-grown. Some are done without supplemental lighting, some are done with supplemental lighting. At that point, when you’re talking about greenhouses, they’re differentiated one way by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and a different way by the law in general. There’s no way we’re going to stand by and let the state put unreasonable restrictions on any aspect of the plant.
SunGrower: Under Oregon’s recreational cannabis regulations, outdoor farms are allowed four times the canopy of indoor growers, which seems like a big victory for sun-grown cannabis. What type of impact do you see this having on the industry as a whole?
PG: I have a slightly different take on that. I served on the Licensing Compliance and Enforcement Committee for the OLCC, so I was there when we started that rule in development. The reason is actually that the OLCC is interested in being able to estimate the amount of cannabis a grower is able to grow in the course of the year so the tier structure taxes everybody fairly. After several rounds of negotiation, the OLCC decided they were going to set it at 4:1. They’re estimating that an indoor producer growing four crops a year will produce the same volume as an outdoor producer growing one crop a year. That was tedious; that took a lot of work from that committee.
SunGrower: What’s your ultimate takeaway?
PG: It’s more complicated than making it a ‘versus’ situation. This is where greenhouses come in. People in greenhouses can grow with or without supplemental lighting, depending on what time of year it is. The OLCC broke up the tier structure; you can have a part of your production indoor and a part of your production dedicated to outdoor. At that point, the discussion of how fair the 4:1 ratio was went out the window, because they gave us the flexibility to produce as we see fit, which was something we had been advocating for the entire time.
Restricting us to either indoor or outdoor production was absurd. That might make sense when you’re in a warehouse, but it doesn’t make sense when you’re in southern Oregon. We had been advocating for the right to grow both ways the whole time.
SunGrower: Does the Oregon SunGrown Growers’ Guild have established standards for its members, such as guidelines for the use of pesticides, business practices, product packaging, etc.?
PG: I wouldn’t say we have a code of standards, specifically. There’s a general understanding among our members and we do a lot of ongoing education. For example, this year so far, we’ve done well over 10 hours of meetings for our members and the general public discussing organic, integrated pest management practices and organic methods of cultivation. Even though we’re not allowed to be federally certified organic, a lot of us grow food at home for our own consumption and we educate people on how to do that with their cannabis as well.
SunGrower: Does the guild look at food production methods as a crossover to cannabis farming?
PG: Yeah, there’s no reason we wouldn’t. We don’t have anything that’s unique to what we do besides our plant. I’ve asked people for 20 years, ‘Name something in the cannabis business and industry that is unique besides the plant itself.’ We’ve borrowed everything from every other industry, so why wouldn’t we use regular food production techniques and apply them where they work for our cannabis crops as well?
The full spectrum of the sun hasn’t been duplicated by lights. Much of the spectrum is outside of our visual perception. The sun giving that broad spectrum radiation is more beneficial for the plant than indoor lights.
SunGrower: From a legislative standpoint, what do you see as the biggest obstacles standing in the way of outdoor growers?
PG: I think the biggest issue legislatively, at both the state and county level, is our right to grow on our R-5 zoned property. It’s highlighted by the situation in Jackson County, but the way their land use laws are written is different than the other 35 counties in the state, so when the state Legislature defined cannabis production for sale as farm use, they zoned Jackson County out effectively. Before, for the previous 17 years of the medical program, that issue had never been addressed in law.
So what allowed growing on most R-5 properties in most counties excluded it from Jackson County, and also gave other counties the right to restrict production on R-5 properties that represent most of the production in the state under the medical program.
SunGrower: At one point, southern Oregon growers were fearful that the hemp industry would cause problems with pollination. Has that conflict been resolved in any way or is that still a concern?
PG: As a sensimilla grower for a long time, I do want to protect my crop and my neighbors’ crops. I would say that 50% of the cannabis production for the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program originates within 50 miles from where I live. That’s a lot of material we definitely don’t want contaminated by hemp pollen. The flip side is that there’s a free market dynamic a lot of people don’t consider. The people who want hemp that are going to be making seed and fiber stock don’t really want to grow it in this area, because it’s not really feasible. There isn’t that much land to grow on, and it’s not economically viable if you’re going to grow that small of a hemp crop for seed and fiber.
However, there are people that can use those small pieces of land to grow sensimilla hemp. They harvest those flowers and turn them into oil. It’s done exactly the same way we make sensimilla flowers that go into dispensaries in Oregon. You just don’t grow males and we have no greater risk of pollination than we do with our crops.
East of the Cascades, the water is cheap, the land is plentiful and the conditions are ripe to grow hemp for seed and fiber.
SunGrower: Does the guild have a marketing plan to promote the environmental benefits and quality of sun-grown cannabis?
PG: Yes, absolutely. Among other things, sun-grown cannabis has more robust terpene profiles. One way we market that our Terpene Cup. It was the first competition in Oregon that’s not judged based on THC and CBD. It was judged solely on terpenes.
SunGrower: How were the terpenes judged? Was it by lab results or taste testing?
PG: It was absolutely great, because we did both. Not only were we testing the cannabis as judges, but we were also testing the lab equipment. We had an expert panel of seven judges with more than a century of experience between them. The judges didn’t know what the samples were or where they came from. There was no identifying information and they didn’t get to see the lab results.
We added up the lab results for first, second and third and the judges’ ratings for first, second and third. And they were the same.
That was cool, because even though there were differences in the seven judges’ opinions, the sum of the judges came out to the balance of the machine results. It’s just proving that the machines observe in their way what we observe in our way.
The Lemon Kush that was first in terpenes was the highest that Green Leaf Labs has tested to date. And our judges agreed that it kicked ass. The judges’ testing was very comprehensive, whereas the machines were very specific. Overall, it was interesting to see that we agreed and it showed that the machines have come a long way.
I’m more than happy to use that to prove the terpene power of sun-grown cannabis.