Oregon marijuana growers diversify with hemp
Springfield, Ore. – A glut of legal marijuana is driving Oregon pot prices to rock-bottom levels, prompting some nervous growers to start pivoting to another type of cannabis to make ends meet – one that doesn’t come with a high.
Applications for state licenses to grow hemp – marijuana’s non-intoxicating cousin – have increased more than twentyfold since 2015, making Oregon No. 2 behind Colorado among the 19 states with active hemp cultivation. The rapidly evolving market comes amid skyrocketing demand for a hemp-derived extract called cannabidiol, or CBD, seen by many as a health aid.
In its purified distilled form, CBD oil commands thousands of dollars per kilogram, and farmers can make more than $100,000 an acre growing hemp plants to produce it.
“Word on the street is everybody thinks hemp’s the new gold rush,” Jerrad McCord said, who grows marijuana in southern Oregon and just added 12 acres of hemp.
The state’s climate is perfect for growing marijuana, and growers produced bumper crops. Under state law, none can leave Oregon. That, coupled with a decision to not cap the number of licenses for growers, has created a surplus.
Oregon’s inventory of marijuana is staggering for a state its size. There are nearly 1 million pounds of usable flower in the system, and an additional 350,000 pounds of marijuana extracts, edibles and tinctures.
“Usable flower” refers to the dried marijuana flower – or bud – that is most commonly associated with marijuana consumption.
The retail price for a gram of pot has fallen about 50 percent since 2015, from $14 to $7, according to a report by the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis. Growers and retailers alike have felt the sting.
That stark prospect is driving more of Oregon’s marijuana entrepreneurs toward hemp, a crop that already has a foothold in states like Colorado and Kentucky and a lot of buzz in the cannabis industry.
Like marijuana, the hemp plant is a cannabis plant, but it contains less than 0.3 percent of THC, the compound that gives pot its high. Growing industrial hemp is legal under federal law, and the plant can be sold for use in things like fabric, food, seed and building materials.
But the increasing focus in Oregon is the gold-colored CBD oil that has soared in popularity among cannabis connoisseurs and is rapidly going mainstream. At least 50 percent of hemp nationwide is being grown for CBD extraction.
CBD is popping up in everything from cosmetics to chocolate bars to bottled water to pet treats. One Los Angeles bar sells drinks containing the oil, massage therapists use creams containing CBD and juice bars offer the stuff in smoothies.
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