Update on our visit to OSU

As I mentioned in last week’s CSA newsletter, Casey and I had an appointment last Friday at Oregon State University to address their existing marijuana policy, which excludes all extension agents from working with legal marijuana growers in Oregon (it also excludes any research or academics relating to marijuana growing as well). Here is a link to a summary of OSU’s marijuana policies. Of note for us is the last section, which states: “The OSU Extension Services will not provide instruction regarding how to grow, manufacture, distribute or dispense marijuana.”

As we prepared for our discussion, Casey and I pondered our approach. OSU is a big institution! Small folk like us aren’t going to “change” a policy in such a big institution in one meeting (especially when we were meeting with the Assistant Dean for Outreach and Engagement, not the provost). So we decided that our first goal needed to be to demonstrate to him (and to others we speak with) that there’s a problem right now. That not serving or working with this rapidly-growing sector of Oregon agriculture represents a problem.

This is step #1: Establish the problem.

  • Policy perpetuates unhealthy historical stigma against marijuana production and use
  • Policy perpetuates segregation between marijuana growers and other Oregon farmers and de-legitimizes marijuana producers as being “farmers”
  • Policy severely limits opportunities for facilitated cross-pollination of ideas and information between marijuana growers and other farmers
  • Policy severely limits marijuana growers’ access to important agricultural resources and information, possible perpetuating use of unhealthy prohibition-based practices
  • Policy represents institutional discrimination against farmers who are growing a crop legally in Oregon

Step #2: Communicate the problem.

This is the step we’re actively working on. Our meeting with the Assistant Dean last week was the seed of a bigger conversation. Many more people will need to get on board before the OSU’s legal counsel and provost will be likely to put in the hard work of figuring out how to bring their marijuana policy more into line with the reality of complex marijuana laws. We’ve also already reached out to:

  • State Senator Floyd Prozanski, who is also a lawyer and has been a key player in implementing Oregon’s marijuana laws
  • U.S. Senators Wyden & Merkley
  • The OLCC
  • Cannabis lawyers

We plan to also share some of our thoughts with the media to engage more people in seeing this problem.

So far the response to our initial inquiries has been very positive. Most of the people we’ve contacted were not aware of the disconnect between the needs of Oregon marijuana growers and the lack of available services from Oregon’s most important agricultural resource.

Step #3: Help OSU align their policy to Oregon’s laws.

Part of why we’re contacting so many people in step #2 is because OSU will need help in figuring out exactly how to revise their marijuana policy. We believe that there is nothing in current existing laws that prohibits institutions from teaching about marijuana or aiding marijuana growers.

Yes, marijuana is still federally illegal and a Schedule 1 drug; however, it is legal to grow, sell and consume in Oregon (and 25+ other states) in accordance with state laws. The right to do so is protected by what is called the “Cole Memo,” the U.S. Department of Justice’s guidelines to prosecutors and law enforcement in states where legal marijuana laws have been passed. Essentially, if a state program can meet these same goals (such as preventing possession by minors), then it is free to function and people in that state are free to function within the state’s laws. This is how large agencies such as the ODA and the OLCC are legally able to participate with and license marijuana growers in Oregon. The combination of laws are also why so many essential businesses and services work with marijuana growers as well.

However, it is clear that OSU’s legal counsel has taken the most conservative (and let’s face it: simplest!) route in interpreting the complexity of marijuana laws on the state and federal level right now. Essentially, they are choosing to not acknowledge Oregon state laws or the Cole memo.

It is our goal to pull in together more minds to help them rethink this interpretation, and/or possibly even write new state or federal legislation if necessary to help create the protections that OSU (and other institutions like it around the country) needs in order to begin engaging in the very important work of engaging with the burgeoning marijuana industry. That is why we’re working with both state and U.S. legislators.

It sounds as though OSU’s legal counsel would prefer to see federal level legalization before changing their policy. From the looks of it, federal legalization and/or rescheduling marijuana may actually become the last step of legitimizing the existing and growing marijuana industry. In the meantime, states are moving ahead with their own methods of legalizing marijuana for their farmers and consumers. This industry is growing quickly. If academia waits too conservatively to join the conversation and work, then the marijuana industry will miss out on the many benefits that come from that particular kind of applied inquiry and discourse.

The faculty members we chatted with on Friday heard us and did their best to explain OSU’s position. We learned from them that OSU’s extensions agents get requests for information from marijuana growers routinely — whom they have to turn away. So, at the very least, it felt like the four of us established that there is indeed a need. Everyone parted with some level of hope that this problem is by no means insurmountable. We planted a seed, and (as we have time!) over the next few weeks we will continue to water it with our time. Hopefully at some point, it will be a living project with a life and momentum of its own as people come together to solve this puzzle. We look with joy and hope toward the eventual fruits this work will bring to Oregon agriculture.

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