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Pot hits a high note

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The grand opening of a cannabis growing facility Tuesday in Medford featured a chamber of commerce moment.

On hand for the ribbon cutting was Brad Hicks, president and chief executive officer of The Chamber of Medford/Jackson County, along with Eli Matthews, vice president of Travel Medford. Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer and Rep. Kim Wallan, R-Medford, were also on hand to welcome Acreage Oregon’s facility on Airport Road.

In the past, the chamber and even some local elected officials have been criticized for not embracing and promoting the cannabis industry, which has become a significant economic engine for the region.

“That perception is a result of us trying to correct the negative impacts,” said Dyer. “The best thing to do is encourage those who are doing it right.”

He said Acreage Oregon, a partnership between a Canadian and a U.S. cannabis company, is an example of “doing it right,” pointing out that the indoor growing facility won’t produce the odor problems that have plagued many rural properties.

It also helps to become a member of the chamber, and Acreage Holdings was the first cannabis business to join, followed by Grown Rogue. Several hemp businesses are also part of the chamber.

Hicks toured the new 32,000-square-foot facility that was formerly a go-kart track.

Suited up in a special outfit to limit contamination, Hicks got a close-up view of the flowers, even breathing in the strong odor of cannabis, giving the flowers gentle squeezes with his gloved hand and taking a whiff.

“Growing up in Grants Pass, I’d thought I’d never see pot growing in this kind of environment,” he said.

Hicks said he remembers when an underground cannabis industry began in backyards and barns throughout Southern Oregon 30 or more years ago.

Hicks acknowledged that chambers of commerce throughout the country still are struggling with legalization of marijuana and how to promote it.

“It reminds me a little bit, from a historical perspective, of the Gold Rush and the old West.”

At national chamber conferences, he said, a frequent topic of conversation is how to deal with the cannabis industry. He said chambers still struggle with balancing legitimacy of the industry and when is the appropriate time to throw their support behind it.

With more cannabis business members in the chamber, Hicks said it will help the chamber develop tools to market and promote this area for cannabis tourism and to help attract more cannabis businesses.

“It’s a statement of how far our own industry has developed,” he said after touring the facility.

Zackry Ayres, general manager of Acreage Oregon, said he was surprised at how easy it was to set up this operation at a prime location near the airport.

“Medford has been so welcoming,” he said.

While the state-of-the-art facility still is not completely filled with plants, it will have about 15,000 square feet, with the potential to grow 20,000 square feet. Right now, three rooms are devoted to growing flower, with the possibility of opening up a fourth room.

Ayres said he’s growing 400 pounds of flower a month at the facility, with 15% of it destined for Cannabliss stores, including one located across the street from the University of Oregon in Eugene.

“We need to sell 85% to the wholesale market,” he said.

He said the first harvest of flower was grown during the research and development phase as he worked out any issues with the new facility.

Many of the plants grow under LED lights throughout the sprawling facility. Workers were still setting up one room Tuesday for very young plants.

Acreage Holdings, Acreage Oregon’s New York-based parent company, which owns five Cannabliss dispensaries in Oregon, has been in the news this year.

A large Canadian firm, Canopy Growth, is in the process of buying Acreage Holdings for $3.4 billion, according to Forbes. This acquisition would give Canopy access to local markets in the U.S.

In an article in Investor’s Business Daily on Monday, it reported that steep losses and disappointing sales growth sank Canopy stock this year, though the cannabis industry in general went through a slump.

Many large cannabis companies are jockeying for marketing position, anticipating the eventual legalization of cannabis throughout the U.S.

According to Barron’s, Acreage Holdings is one of six companies in the U.S. leading the cannabis market.

But Barron’s said the patchwork of state regulations complicates the business plans of these cannabis heavy hitters that are working on vertical integration, or handling every aspect of cannabis production, from growing, distribution, marketing and sales.

“With profits so scarce, cannabis companies tend to emphasize how many licenses they’ve acquired,” according to the Barron’s article. “By that measure, Acreage has the biggest potential footprint so far, with 79 retail licenses in 19 states.”

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

Acreage Oregon
Brad Hicks, president of The Chamber of Medford/Jackson County, takes a close look at one of the plants in the 30,000-square-foot cannabis growing facility near the Medford Airport.{ }Courtesy photo.