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Grants Pass racetrack will feature 'marijuana mile'

They're unofficially calling the last race of the 2017 horse racing season the "Marijuana Mile."

In another "sign of the times" moment, the most lucrative thoroughbred race at Grants Pass Downs, the Grants Pass Mile, is sponsored by a marijuana grower.

Two years after recreational marijuana became legal in Oregon, BJS A-Grade, an OLCC-licensed, 40,000-square-foot growing operation outside Ashland, ponied up $6,000 of the $10,000 purse for the July 9 horse race.

And in the program for the race meet, one of the full-page ads was purchased by Merlin dispensary Tamerans, just down the pike from Ray's Food Place.

Marijuana is creeping into the mainstream, for better or worse, depending on whom you ask.

"It's a different ballgame, it's now legal," said Tag Wotherspoon, publicist for racing at Grants Pass Downs. "We welcome them with open arms."

BJS co-owner Stuart Sadorf, 51, became a fan of horse racing in his youth in Boise and started frequenting Grants Pass Downs 25 years ago after moving to Ashland to attend Southern Oregon University.

He said he wanted to help the horse owners.

"It's given me a lot of enjoyment, and now that I have the means to give something back, I've decided to do that," Sadorf said. "Watching as a fan, seeing the short race fields, seeing the horsemen struggle, people trying to eke out a living on peanuts ... I decided to do something.

"Hopefully it will get more horsemen down here, and bring more excitement."

Sadorf, who became licensed in August 2016, said this is a coming trend.

"There's a lot of money out there, as far as the marijuana businesses that want to be part of the community," he said.

"If you make it mainstream, there's no stigma to it," Sadorf added. "A lot of companies want to contribute to the community. That's what I'm starting."

The Southern Oregon Horse Racing Association, part of horse racing in Grants Pass since the 1960s, had to think about the marijuana influence.

"For an older generation, we have mixed feelings," said Rod Lowe, SOHRA president. "But I believe it's going to become the norm, and be a bigger part of all of our industries."

Lowe and Wotherspoon said Tamerans, the Merlin dispensary, approached them about the ad. Wotherspoon said he wasn't out soliciting for the business, and there is only one dispensary ad.

"We've kind of put a rein on it for this year, trying to work it in slowly, so it doesn't turn into a big shocker for some people," Lowe said. "This is our first year experiencing any of that, with the ad and the Grants Pass Mile."

Sadorf says he's like any other businessman.

"People think there's millions of dollars and we're leading jet-set lives," he said. "I have the same problems as any other business — not enough capital, labor issues, retail issues.

"Last year was a big struggle because of the fall rain. People lost a lot of their product from the mold. The whole industry thought there would be more demand. But it's not as much as we thought. There's so many more people coming into the business."

The company website states it is "Run by longtime Oregon residents with over a quarter century of growing experience, BJS A-Grade prides itself on building lasting relationships with all OLCC licensed businesses."

Sadorf was hoping to keep a low profile.

"I don't have the time, the energy or desire to get my back slapped by the chamber of commerce," he said. "I'm just here to give something back to the meet, that's all."