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Hemp farm next-door worries school officials

Oak Grove Elementary School officials in Medford are nervously eyeing a new neighbor immediately to the west who plans to grow 2.2 acres of industrial hemp that will be visible from the playground.

"We'd prefer to have Christmas trees next door," said Brad Earl, chief operations officer for the Medford School District. "Obviously, we're not excited about it."

Earl, who said there is a short fence separating the two properties, said the district is worried this could prove a distraction for students, parents and staff.

Schiller Enterprises Inc. of Ashland bought the land April 26 for $385,000, according to Jackson County records. Schiller registered a portion of the 7-plus-acre property to grow industrial hemp with the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Hemp can look almost identical to regular drug-grade cannabis, but it has only a trace of the active ingredient that provides the "high."

Depending on the strain of hemp grown, the plants at the farm could give off a similar odor as marijuana during the months of August and September.

Jackson County Code Enforcement officials have received two complaints about the hemp farm, though the county has little jurisdiction over hemp because it is considered an agricultural crop. The property is located just outside the city limits of Medford on land zoned exclusive farm use. No hemp is currently being grown on the property.

Owner Rick Schiller said the hemp production will not take place anywhere near the school.

"It's acres away," he said.

Schiller wouldn't say how far the plants will be from the fence line that separates his property and the playground.

The farthest boundary on his land from the school is about 750 feet to the west, according to Google Maps. Standing just outside the edge of his property that is the farthest from the school, children can be seen on the playground.

The land is being cleaned up, and a building is being remodeled next to an existing house, which sits to the west on the property.

Schiller said his intention is to grow industrial hemp, and he said it would have very little odor.

However, hemp farms with female flowers can have a strong odor that is similar to drug-grade marijuana, according to the Department of Agriculture. Some strains produce less-detectable odors. A 30-acre hemp farm in Ashland last year attracted the attention of neighbors because of the odors and its strong resemblance to regular marijuana.

Schiller said he wasn't sure whether he would grow hemp for fiber or for its medical benefits.

Typical marijuana plants have tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, that produces the high. Female hemp plants are being grown throughout the state for the cannabidiol, or CBD, which is touted as good for pain relief, seizures, Parkinson’s disease and other ailments. In Oregon, hemp plants are limited to a maximum 0.3 percent THC.

Ron Pence, operations manager at the Oregon Department of Agriculture, said Schiller Enterprises registered the grow site May 15, 2017, at 2968 W. Main St.

He said industrial hemp is typically grown for fiber or seed oil. Most growers who want the oil put in a strain that is short and bushy, about the size of a blueberry bush.

"It does not look like the fibrous strain," Pence said.

Because it is an agricultural crop and has a very tiny amount of the active ingredient in marijuana that produces the "high," there are no requirements for fencing or to keep it away from a school. In fact, near Salem, a large hemp farm has signs along the road announcing hemp is being grown, Binker said.

Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer said he talked to the principal at Oak Grove about the issue this week.

"Parents are not aware of the distinction between hemp and marijuana," he said. "It's not an actual marijuana grow."

State Rep. Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, is on a legislative committee that has worked on rules for industrial hemp.

Michelle Binker, Wilson's chief of staff, said local jurisdictions have some control over time, place and manner restrictions on regular marijuana grows but not on hemp.

She said hemp has similar terpenes as regular marijuana. Terpenes produce the odor associated with cannabis. Other plants such as pine trees also contain terpenes.

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

Work is underway on a hemp farm near Oak Grove Elementary School. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]