Legal pot industry springs to life...can it be sustainable?
© April Streeter
Yesterday was the first day hundreds of marijuana dispensaries in the city of Portland could open their doors and their wares to regular consumers.
And in good Portlandia fashion, local bike touring company Pedal Bike Tours has devised an 11-mile bike-based meander through the city to help tourists and others discover the local culture of cannabis.
© April Streeter
Though Colorado and Washington are months ahead of Oregon in allowing people to purchase pot for 'recreational' use, Portland as the epicenter of hippy grunge or grungy hipness put on a party to welcome weed. (Alaska made consumption for adults legal but selling is still illegal.)
"It's really about appreciation," said Pedal Bike Tours tour leader Sarah Gilbert.
Gilbert advised the small band of employees and media types going on the premier of the Pot Bike Tour that while buying pot might happen on this tour, imbibing would not, as public intake of cannabis is still not legal.
Instead, Gilbert lead bike-bound tour participants through the sunny streets of Portland in search of the newly burgeoning culture of pot.
© April Streeter
Oregon was the first state to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis (in 1973), and amongst the first to authorize medical marijuana growing and use (1998). This year, the governor signed a bill In 2015 declaring marijuana sales legal to recreational users from dispensaries starting October 1st, 2015.
Amazingly, on the first day of legal sales there were already 100 dispensaries in Portland ready for business, 345 in the state in total. The fast expansion of this new industry, though, creates a big question - can marijuana growing in the state and in the country be made more sustainable than our other agricultural crops?
As we reported in 2011, pot growing is a highly energy intensive industry. In addition, indoor and outdoor 'conventional' growing uses fungicides and pesticides which can linger in both the buds and the oils.
Clean Green, based in Crescent City, California has been around for almost a decade and has certified more than 100 growers as supporting 'sustainable' practices with their crops. Thus far, cannabis can't be certified organic under the USDA's federal program since it is still illegal at the federal level.
Yet some growers are calling their crop organically grown and trying hard to produce a product that is less resource and chemical-intensive than the norm.
Jesse Peters, owner of Eco Firma Farms near West Linn, Oregon, is running his operation on 100% wind power. Hifi Farms in Portland uses organic fertilizers and essential oils for pest control. Cascade High Organics is pursuing 'socially conscious cannabis cultivation' with no chemical pesticides used.
Thus far, there's no sustainable pot premium, though some Oregon growers are trying to brand their product as superior and worth a higher price.
Yet if cannabis is destined to become a legitimate billion-dollar business, it seems like standards for making it earth friendlier are direly needed.
*Disclaimer: This writer was invited to the inaugural Portland Pot Tour, which will normally cost $69 (ice cream and french fries included).