It was just past noon and we were making good time as we crossed over the Columbia river into Portland, Oregon. Fall was settling in, and many of the outdoor grows that dotted the landscape were already being prepped for harvest. While recreational cannabis came to the state in 2014, Oregon was the first state to decriminalize simple possession, setting the groundwork for a full-scale paradigm shift in the U.S. Our destination was Blissful Botanicals, a 3,000-plant outdoor grow just outside Oregon’s largest city. We stopped by Clay Wolf Extraction in Clackamas to link up with good friend and longtime industry regular Pat Emerson before heading further into the rural countryside.
While tales of California’s Humboldt Triangle are world-renowned, the grow scene in Oregon has been quietly exploding for years. Temperatures have been consistently rising in the area—and across the country—causing California’s coveted green belt to slowly migrate north. The migrating climate became a double-edged sword as grape growers began to follow the shift north, finding themselves in direct competition with cannabis farmers over the agricultural land required for licensed outdoor grows in the state.
We asked Pat what it was like to be a part of the cannabis community in Oregon. “After seven years,” he told me, “it’s still an honor to be in an industry based on helping people.” Pat got his start in the legal industry just as I had—both of us began as volunteers. I smiled to myself, thinking about how differently things could have gone.
I’d been a small time pot dealer for most of my life, bouncing from one school to another—and eventually from one jail to another. By the winter of 2011, my daughter was four years old. I was beginning to abandon all hope of a life outside the ordinary. I was running a small landscaping business I had started in college, and winters in the Pacific Northwest meant little to no work. My plan to subsidize my income with a small basement grow was not going as well as years past. Medical cannabis was in full swing, and there was no competing with dispensaries that carried more flavors than an ice cream shop. It was time to join the movement, and I walked into the country’s first cannabis farmers market and volunteered to work for free.
Back to Oregon. We veered off onto a small country road, heading east for a pit stop at Old Apple Farm. It was a surprise stop and my first visit. A row of giant hoop houses dominated the scenery, and some of the crew were tossing hatchets at a large cedar round as we pulled in. Michael Getlin introduced himself as the owner and I was struck by how young he was. No one on the farm seemed to be over 30. The place had a sort of commune feel that immediately put me at ease, allowing me to relax from the long morning on the road. Farm dogs intertwined themselves between our legs, making circles through the pack of newcomers as they made their own introductions. Michael fired up a giant barbeque pit before leading us towards the rows of hoop houses.
As we finished our tour of the gardens and prepared for lunch, I found myself thinking back to what had attracted me to a career in cannabis. And it wasn’t the free weed or a chance at fame. What started as a way to supplement my income ultimately led me to something greater. We had a community in cannabis, and it didn’t matter if you were black, white, yellow or brown. If you believed in the plant, then you were one of us. You had a place. America had been divided long before we were born; cannabis was a chance at something more for a generation that had otherwise been marginalized.
It was another half hour on the road before we would reach our destination at Blissful Botanicals. The harvest was in full steam, and some 2,000 plants were already being processed as we arrived. Piles of untrimmed branches filled the shop tables and an army of young trimmers and farm hands buzzed around like bees, paying little mind to our intrusion. Owner and head grower Eric lead us through the shop doors and into the sun to see the remaining thousand plants.
“This is the fun part,” he grinned. “This is where all the work comes together and we get to see the final product. It’s the wild west right now. It’s a new industry, and we’re still getting everything figured out.” He led me down the small hill into the large, open air garden. A 12-foot security fence marked the perimeter. Just like the last farm, these were young kids getting their start in the world. Eric didn’t seem to be a day over 25 and oversaw his million-dollar operation with an optimistic enthusiasm that seemed to pervade the workplace.
Pat locked me in a bear hug, his 6’5” frame nearly squeezing the air out of me as we said our goodbyes and prepared for the trip back home. The road that led us both here had not been a straight one—but ultimately, it took us down the same path. For us, cannabis was a fork in the road, a divergence from the mundane into the exciting possibilities of a world where two poor kids, born to poor parents, could suddenly find themselves carving a niche in an eight billion-dollar industry.
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