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Jackson County is a leader in pot businesses

After decades spent improving his green thumb, Jamie Syken says it's a good feeling to have a legit cannabis operation without any worries about DEA agents raiding his operation.

"I'm really happy with it," he said. "I've got nothing to hide."

Syken has a processing facility and a massive greenhouse operation, both outfitted with the latest technology to grow the best possible strains, including one that smells like tangerines, called "Tangie."

His business, Dirty Arm Farm, is one of 146 licensed cannabis operations in Jackson County, which represents more than 12 percent of the 1,172 businesses that have received licenses from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission since it started issuing them April 29, 2016.

Jackson County has the third-largest number of licenses of any county in Oregon. Multnomah County has 258 and Lane County has 170, according to OLCC statistics. In Jackson, there are 103 licensed growers and 24 retail stores, with nine processors, nine wholesalers and one testing lab. By comparison, Starbuck's has 10 stores in Jackson County.

OLCC spokesman Mark Pettinger said the number of licensed marijuana operations in the state is close to the 1,200 anticipated before licenses were issued.

"It's still a pretty significant number," he said.

OLCC is processing another 1,319 applications, including 192 from Jackson County, which, if approved, would bring the number of cannabis businesses to about 338 in Jackson County and 2,500 statewide.

To keep up with the demand, Pettinger said, OLCC has shifted some of its workers from the alcohol side of the agency.

Pettinger said OLCC has asked for another 39 people, which would double its staff.

So far, the agency has collected about $7 million in licensing fees.

Syken said he's generally happy with OLCC and thinks the industry needs the regulatory oversight.

Standing inside his 11,000-square-foot greenhouse near Ashland, Syken looks around at the 700 plants approaching harvest.

In years past, his cannabis ventures and even his children's store, Growing Green Baby in Ashland, have fallen under scrutiny by federal agents.

He said that in the past few years, the cannabis industry has changed dramatically, with legalization leading to innovation.

His greenhouse uses sunlight as much as possible but is augmented by artificial light to maintain the light cycle necessary for cannabis cultivation. At night, black drapes cover the inside of the greenhouse so light doesn't escape. Temperatures are regulated inside the greenhouse, changing about five times a day to mimic the normal fluctuations experienced outside.

Unlike some growers, Syken doesn't grow large plants.

He has relatively spindly stalks that have been stripped of branches, except for the tops, which are covered in flowers and supported by a trellis of netting. Because this is his first operation in the new greenhouse, Syken is eager to see how the strains grow. The harvest, unlike a typical harvest in late summer, will take place in about a month because of the artificial light.

Syken said it's difficult to predict how the industry will shake out over the coming years, but he thinks customers will demand high-quality flowers with distinctive flavor profiles. He said he prefers smoking extracts rather than the dried flowers.

Cannabiz Experience opened six weeks ago on Riverside Drive in Medford because the owner, Robert Weinger, said he felt it was the best location for a business.

"It's all about location, location, location," he said. "I would not settle for a place that wasn't perfect."

Weinger said he bought the property for $500,000 two months before the election last year because he was confident local voters would allow retail sales of marijuana in the city.

Despite that move, Weinger said he's about 18 months behind on his business plan.

He said he's not concerned by the growing numbers of retail stores in the area because he has the right location and offers the right products and information to his customers.

Out of 1,200 immature plants that came from his farm for sale to customers, he has only 70 left, he said.

"I chose Medford because it's smack in the middle of Southern Oregon," he said.

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Jamie Syken, owner of Dirty Arm Farm, works Friday in his marijuana greenhouse, one of 146 licensed cannabis operations in Jackson County. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]