State’s first licensees begin the push to make the push for having the first product on the market
By Casey Smith
From molecular biologists to professional athletes, commercial agriculture professionals to craft medical growers, Oregon’s first recreational marijuana licensees represent a wide-ranging cross-section of entrepreneurs chasing the American Dream.
In just a few months, Oregonians will be able to purchase cannabis products that were specifically cultivated for the state’s recreational market. The fact that most consumers won’t even notice the transition is a testament to the state’s bold, progressive approach of allowing medical dispensaries to serve all adult customers in the interim prior to issuing recreational licenses. For many, Oregon’s legalization structure has created a nearly seamless transition from medical-only to adult-use cannabis.
Marijuana Venture reached out to each of the first eight licensed producers in Oregon: Far Out Farms, Loved Buds, New Breed Seed, Pacific Wonderland Craft Cannabis, Smokey Mountain Farm, Southern Oregon Cannabis Company, Terra Mater Farms and Yerba Buena.
It’s a group that represents a wide cross-section of Pacific Northwest entrepreneurs.
“These licensees reflect the pioneering spirit Oregon is known for,” Oregon Liquor Control Commission chairman Rob Patridge says. “They come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences and possess the entrepreneurial spirit of this industry.”
Joel Alexander is the brain trust behind Far Out Farms. A California native with roots in Hawaii as well, Alexander has been in Oregon since finishing graduate school in 1999 and spent time working as a biologist for the government. When he decided he didn’t want to spend his life in a cubicle, Alexander pursued ventures in medical marijuana retail and organic farming. Now, he says Far Out Farms is excited to have a clear set of rules under which it operates. The plan is to produce “a couple thousand pounds annually” at the idyllic Tillamook County farm.
Alexander says he’s been hunting for and developing genetics over the past five years, and was able to start flowering crops as soon as the company received its license. But Alexander recognizes that he was lucky to receive his license early, and says industry pioneers have a responsibility to be good ambassadors for legal marijuana.
“It’s an election year and not everyone is pro-cannabis,” he says. “So we need to work collectively so no one screws up our chances as farms because of bad apples. We saw it a lot in the dispensary industry, and that’s part of the reason we got out of retail. Our place and our future in this is in farming, but also trying to keep this industry on the straight and narrow.”
Pacific Wonderland Craft Cannabis (also known as Bull Run Cannabis) is a licensed producer in Clackamas County. As the industry evolves, the company hopes to bring the best parts of the hospitality world into cannabis.
John Plummer, who helms the company, is a local entrepreneur who is getting into cannabis cultivation for the first time. Operating on a farm just outside the metropolitan area of Portland, Plummer says he looks forward to the state adjusting its rules to allow for marijuana tourism, so farms could host tours and events much like breweries and wineries.
However, Bull Run is taking a slow approach; the owner-operated business plans to hire more employees as retail stores come online in the fall.
Just like traditional farming and agriculture, the cannabis business tends to bring families together. Terra Mater Farms is a prime example, with one family working together to take a prominent role as leaders of the industry.
Key team members of the business include Jennifer Speer, her brother Dan Speer, his wife Kailyn, Jennifer’s husband Antonio Harvey, and his brother Richard Harvey.
“As soon as it was clear that Measure 91 would pass, we started to get our ducks in a row so that we could be a part of this,” Kailyn says. “Our hope is that cannabis will be legal on a national level within the next 10 years, and that Oregon will be recognized as a state that was on the forefront of this industry. Agriculture is already the second-largest economic driver in the state and provides for 14% of the jobs here. We know that cannabis farms will have a significantly positive impact on those numbers.”
And agriculture is something that runs in the Speers’ blood. In 1948, their grandfather founded a tree farm that would eventually become the foundation of one of the state’s first recreational cannabis operations.
Meanwhile, the Harveys come from backgrounds in professional sports. Antonio was a professional basketball player and long-time broadcaster. Richard retired from the National Football League in 2000, just as the issue of players’ long-term health was becoming part of a mainstream national debate. During his 11-year career with six different teams, Richard received “pain management pills” from team doctors that did little more than make him feel “out of it.”
After retiring, he was free to explore non-pharmaceutical options. Cannabis relieved his chronic pain without harmful side effects, so he decided to take his pain management into his own hands by becoming a medical grower.
“Our experience combined with Richard’s knowledge in growing cannabis is what we believe will distinguish our product,” Kailyn says. “Growing is what we do best and what we enjoy most on both sides of the family.”
While the Speer family may have never envisioned lending their agriculture knowledge to the cannabis industry when they started their first tree farm nearly 70 years ago, they’ve been preparing for the possibility. Their knowledge of large-scale agriculture could make Terra Mater one of the top producers in the state. The company planted its first crop on April 30 and will grow both indoor and outdoor cannabis. The unincorporated Clackamas County farm is already set up to easily install hoop houses or significantly expand its outdoor growing space when the state allows.
During the licensing process, Jennifer says the family filed every permit appropriately and answered every OLCC question immediately, to ensure Terra Mater would be among the first in line for approval. The company expects to have product ready for retail as soon as recreational shops are licensed.
The Good Herb
Another grow operation ready to hit the recreational market at full force is Yerba Buena.
The Washington County-based farm has been operating under the medical market for the past two years. Yerba Buena already employs more than 20 Oregonians and hopes to double that number by next year.
“We are in full production in our cultivation facility and hope to open a dispensary in the near future,” Yerba Buena spokeswoman Laura Rivero says. “Our product will be available in recreationally-licensed dispensaries as soon as they are licensed.”
The company hopes to further differentiate its product by being Clean Green Certified, a nationally recognized independent standard of organic-based growing methods, carbon footprint and labor practices.
Yerba Buena will have a fully operational indoor grow facility, but will also flower crops in outdoor hoop houses to make use of the increased canopy allowance.
With the current rules, Yerba Buena will focus on flower until the OLCC determines the guidelines for processing. The company may explore an expanded product line of edibles and extracts in the future.
New Breed Seed in Cottage Grove is taking a more unconventional path into Oregon’s recreational cannabis industry. Rather than focusing on smokable marijuana like most growers, New Breed Seed is developing a line of cannabis seeds for home growers and licensed commercial producers.
“Currently, growers are asexually propagating plants, because the breeding work has not been done to make stable seed-based varieties,” says Harold Frazier, who runs the company along with his father, Sandy. “A lot of crossing has been done under the medical programs, but plant count limits have made extensive breeding work difficult.”
Frazier has a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Washington. He and his father have decades of experience in agricultural management and vegetable seed production. Frazier previously oversaw an onion seed operation in Washington.
“One of the things we wish to do is make home growing more accessible by providing robust varieties and simple instructions to home growers that will allow them to grow a nice crop at home,” Frazier says. “The more people that see the plant is just a plant, the less stigma there will be around it.”
New Breed Seed also plans to become a supplier of genetics within Oregon’s recreational market by breeding superior autoflowering strains that can flower year-round in greenhouses without supplemental lighting and blackout systems. The company hopes these autoflowering varieties will be a game-changer in the industry by greatly reducing production costs for growers that rely on natural light.
“Most of the material being grown on the West Coast today is photoperiod-sensitive, so if you’re an outdoor grower you only get one shot at the season,” Frazier explains. “Autoflower material uses genetics that were found in Russia and is not photosensitive. No matter what the day length is, it will start to flower.”
In the short term, however, the company hopes to release three to four varieties by this fall.
New Breed Seed will sell a relatively small amount of smokable marijuana at retail.
While Frazier says the company will consider more commercial varieties or exclusive strains, for the time being, he’s excited to release the potential in plant genetics.
“We just hope to contribute to the existing industry in a positive way,” he says. “I think we can add value to the industry by introducing some of the standards of the professional seed world … and we hope to be good stewards of the plant, maintaining diversity while advancing the genetics.”