Hot and bothered on the hunt for Oregon’s newly legalized weed

Reefer mildness.

Mar 1, 2020, 12:14 am*

Tech

Curt Hopkins 

Curt Hopkins

I haven’t smoked marijuana in over two decades. I can’t say I missed it or enjoyed it when I did smoke it. But today, smoking weed is legal in the state of Oregon.

As a Serious Journalist I intended to hie me forth to wander about our little cut-off shorts-scented shire screaming “I’M NOT A COP!” at college students and old hippies and then having agreeable conversations with them about the changes in the law and how it will affect them.

To top it all off, I thought I’d take a puff from a generous citizen’s jazz cigarette, chew the ear off a “fiber artist,” and curl up in front of the Pioneer Mother and fall asleep. 

I was wrong.

Cannabis is not for scofflaws

I can, if I happen to fall into a pit of madness, possess a pound of solid edibles, 72 ounces of marijuana-infused liquid, and an ounce of extract.

The niceties of legal pot huffing in Oregon aren’t terribly complex, but they are pretty specific. I can smoke, but not in public. I can have four plants and up to eight ounces in my house, and I can pack about an ounce of pot on my person (enough for about 28 joints). I can also, if I happen to fall into a pit of madness, possess a pound of solid edibles, 72 ounces of marijuana-infused liquid (what I call “dope juice”) and an ounce of extract. I can walk under the influence, but not bike or drive. I can give or receive but not buy or sell.

The current exception to the latter rule is the approval Oregon’s Liquor Control Commission has given to medical dispensaries to sell to recreational users starting in October. The process for setting up stores for recreational sales has yet to be worked out.

One of the issues that is up in the air is where your home begins. Your front porch? Or your downstairs utility closet? In your backyard that empties out on an alley or behind a tall fence? Where can you grow? The guideline seems to be “out of sight, out of mind.”

The dope walk

The leafy streets that separate my home from the university campus are as quiet as can possibly be imagined. It shouldn’t have been unexpected, but I didn’t expect it. I thought I would see roommates clustered on their stoops giggling about medieval scholasticism and passing joints. Or leaning back in their beaten up Mazda listening to Mastodon and saying, “Right here… Right here… It’s coming up.”

Through campus and up through the West University Neighborhood: nothing. No weed smoke drifting from behind the curtains of a duplex, no one arguing with a ladybug, nothing.

The fact that it’s summer session has cut out the hustle of the university and its student life. The fact that it’s 90 degrees, humid, and the air looks like the sneeze guard on a minimart condiment counter, did nothing to call out the seaweed dancing liberty lovers I thought I would positively have to elbow my way through to reach my destination.

Then it occurred to me. The difference between today, when cannabis is legal, and yesterday, when it wasn’t, was nothing. Not on the ground anyway. Not in Eugene, Oregon, where, if someone wanted to smoke some weed they probably did so. Not in an area whose rural logging towns have medical dispensaries.

So I reached the strip of cafes, restaurants, bookstores, and taverns that cluster around the University of Oregon’s gate utterly sober and surrounded people more likely to be talking about Great Basin archaeology than whether or not Heatmiser or Coldmiser would win in a fight.

With no weed in sight, I decided I would stop in at the Eugene Police Department’s UO substation and see what has come down from on high in terms of their guidelines for who to arrest and who to leave be, and find out if there have been any issues that have cropped up.

The door was locked. No one answered my knock. Far be it from me to speculate.

After miles and hours of fruitless walking, I wound up back at the house, sore-footed, parboiled in my own sweat, and irredeemably straight.

Your local neighborhood pusher

After hosing off and changing clothes (seriously, it’s almost 100 degrees here), I jumped in Scooty Puff Jr. and ran on down to the neighborhood weed store.

Eugene OG has been in operation since last September. It is a legal medical marijuana dispensary on the busy Franklin Boulevard between the university and the millrace in Eugene. Three-thousand square feet of clean, quiet, and air-conditioned calm.  

With no weed in sight, I decided I would stop in at the Eugene Police Department’s UO substation,

Lawrence Siskind, one of the store’s coowners, a sandy-haired, sleepy-looking rock-climber type, said the difference between today and yesterday for him, his coworkers, and his clientele was… not much. It may have been a bit busier, he conceded, but his customers were all card holders.

But the legalization of recreational marijuana will, eventually, make a world of difference, not just to OG but to the rest of the several dozen dispensaries in the Eugene-Springfield area and three hundred more across the state. As an existing dispensary, OG will be one of the likely temporary beneficiaries of Senate Bill 460, the legislation that will allow them to sell to recreational users until January 1, at which point successful applicants for permanent recreational sales will take over—applicants that will certainly include Eugene OG.

“That will change everything,” Siskind told the Daily Dot. “We anticipate that, once we can sell to recreational users, sales will double—easily.”

One of the big fears you hear discussed when weed becomes legal in each new location is the possibility of big companies roaring into town in a screech of brakes and belch of diesel that wrecks up the place. Siskind considers that unlikely in the long run and impossible in the short.

“Marijuana in Oregon is small business,” he said. “Small growers, small dispensaries—micro business even,” he added as one of the store’s vendors, a maker of marijuana soda, take returns out to his van.

“Until things change at a federal level, big business is not going to be a factor,” he said. “They can’t engage in interstate commerce until the federal laws change.”

You can invest however, he said, pointing out that the 600-pound gorilla of marijuana websites, Leafly, was recently acquired by cannabis-focused investment firm Privateer Holdings. Oh also, there’s a cannabis-focused investment firm.

For many of those involved in growing, processing, and selling weed in Oregon, it is an avocation as much as an investment. But it is undeniably going to be an industry as well, one with a rather extraordinary potential for growth—and for conflict.

Fifty-cent joints

When I attended high school, in rural Southern Oregon, Josephine County produced more marijuana than any other place in the United States. If you wanted weed, you’d open your locker during the break between classes and in a stage whisper ask, “Anyone have a joint they want to sell?” I do not recall the answer ever being “no.”

“Until things change at a federal level, big business is not going to be a factor.”

It seemed like the parents of half the kids I went to school with grew pot and was the font of my inability, which continues to this day, to tell a hippy from a goat roper.

Although marijuana was a part of my childhood, and a pretty no-big-deal part, when I think back on it, it was anything but. The fields where the PTA members grew their weed was in the rugged Siskiyou back valleys scraped free of madrone and manzanita and laid in close to the ground, netted, and protected with shotgun tripwire traps and an enduring distrust of the federal government.

If the magazines that lay around on the end tables at Eugene OG are any indication, today’s Oregon weed is grown in hydroponic tanks, climate-controlled warehouses, and what I’m pretty sure was a space station.

Is it indefensible nostalgia to hope that somewhere down in the rocky, overgrown triangle between Oregon Highway 199, Oregon Route 238, and the California border, a handful of hippies and rednecks are still pulling out poison oak and crushing scorpions to grow weed under the madrones, black oak, and Doug fir?

Of course it is. Did you miss the part about the tripwires and shotguns? 

I’m sorry. That was just the weed talking.

Photo via freeloosedirt/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

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*First Published: Jul 2, 2015, 3:20 pm