For Sean Holt, an Ashland gathering of Southern Oregon hemp growers was more than a farmers market, it was a sign of a new era.
Standing at a table Saturday at the first Hemp Growers Market, Holt handed out sample gram-size smokeable nuggets of his Hempress II strain. The sight of police officers walking the beat in Ashland’s Historic Railroad District yielded something Holt called historic – nothing.
“This is historic, the cops saw us, saw open buds and just walked away,” Holt said. “A bunch of strangers shared a moment.”
Holt’s farm, Baron von Hemp of Ashland, was among a half-dozen Southern Oregon hemp growers and vendors who mingled with a crowd in the dozens Saturday outside Spativa Wellness Boutique.
The event was a family friendly day of face painting, live music and for some an introduction to the health benefits of CBD, according to Spativa owner Rana Lee Lacana, who organized the farmer’s market.
“Today is about celebrating the harvest,” Lacana said, adding that she also hopes it’ll help Southern Oregon’s new and fast-growing industry earn trust from newcomers.
Lacana said her store, which opened about two months ago, is a place where parents can bring their children along to shop for non-intoxicating CBD supplements, tinctures, lotions and spa treatments sourced from local “craft” companies.
She said she only selects businesses that are transparent about their testing and manufacturing processes.
For growers, the event was a day of networking, wisdom sharing and what Lacana hopes will be the start of the Hemp Farmers Union – an alliance between local growers – as they face abrupt regulatory hurdles at the federal level.
The greatest challenge right now is the USDA’s proposed changes to THC limits for industrial hemp made available less than two weeks ago, which was legalized at the federal level in 2018 now legally grown in 46 states. The CBD-rich crop faces fewer legal restrictions to produce than the plant’s relative, recreational cannabis, but Lacana described abrupt rule changes that make it difficult for small growers to keep up.
“The legal limit changed all of a sudden,” Lacana said, adding that it could render about 80 percent of the hemp grown in Southern Oregon earlier this year as unsellable.
“That could kill the small farmer.”
The idea of the Hemp Farmers Union was so new that even growers at the market weren’t yet familiar with it. Lacana said she finished the logo for it last night.
Shane Stiles of Ashland, who owns and operates 42 Degrees Farms, said he believed “collaborating is a good idea amongst growers” because growing industrial hemp requires significantly more specialized knowledge of chemistry and business than other crops.
“It’s more than just growing a plant,” Stiles said. “It’s an intense environment when you’re just trying to adapt.”
Holt said that when he started Baron von Hemp with his family, he expected that “there’s going to be friction,” but he believes the legalization of hemp to be the most important development in the United States since the lifting of alcohol prohibition.
Holt encouraged local growers to make their voice heard to federal regulators during the comment period.
“Hopefully we can prevent this from becoming another big money operation,” Holt said.