That which is taboo (and even illegal) in one place can be ordinary in another.
This can cause us to pause—especially when such a contrast is apparent within two places in the same country. In the case of what I saw in Oregon, it can cause us to question the merit of law and policy in our own country.
The fact is: I saw people in Oregon nonchalantly doing things that the police would immediately stop in Minnesota.
The issue: marijuana
It’s also interesting, though, how quickly that which is strange can begin to feel normal when it is a regular part of the world you’re now in. By the time I left Oregon, normalized was the topic, sight, and smell of marijuana. And then I’d pause in considering how these marijuana-related places and actions would be treated back in Minnesota. The people smoking marijuana in public would be approached; the dispensaries (a fancy word for marijuana stores) would be shut down; and the farm I went to? That would likely be raided by men wearing all black military gear with guns at the ready.
Yet in Oregon the dispensary (with its universally-recognized green cross out front) was simply a place to consult about one’s needs, examine the latest tools for ingestion, and sample (smell) the different options—all within a pharmacy-like setting of bright light, glass-countertop displays, and at-the-ready employees.
And that farm I went to? Well, it was just another place to see rows of crops tended to by those passionate about growing things out of the earth—albeit these farmers took things up a notch with their use of crystals to aid their crop and their advocacy of natural cures (particularly from their crop.)
Today, I share the portion of my Pacific Northwest exploration centering around the world of legal marijuana. Here are two snippets of these interactions, previewing videos to come.
Leaving Portland, it didn’t take long for me to dive into this world. Breakfast with an old Minnesotan friend who had moved out here a few years back led to a suggestion to take a peek at the dispensary just up the road from where we met. In southern suburban Portland, I entered this dispensary. Unlike the previous one in the city with a strict no-camera policy, the owner here was able and willing to talk.
Meet Mike(owner), Gavin(employee), and Joe(farmer) of Stoney Girl Gardens. Here they are in their Stoney Only Marijuana Dispensary.
Mike talked up the benefits of marijuana legalization, enacted in Oregon for recreational use about a year ago.
“$40,000,” Mike stated as the revenue collected for the state each month from his company. He also mentioned his 21 employees and the help afforded those whose health improves from marijuana products.
Employee Gavin (seen above helping a customer) still remembers the first morning recreational pot purchases became legal. At the front of a line (going out the door) was a guy who “was looking all around to make sure he wasn’t in trouble if he bought,” said Gavin.
As a Minnesotan, it is strange seeing what I’ve come to know as an illicit substance now for sale in clean, bright packaging on shelves. For these guys, it’s not such a novelty anymore as it is the beginning of a movement.
In addition to the retail side of things, Stoney Girl Gardens grows and creates their own strains of marijuana, something for which shy Farmer Joe was nonetheless eager to express his pride. Finally, Mike operates Portlandsterdam University, a nearby school to learn how to grow marijuana.
Mike’s been in the marijuana business since medical legalization 18 years ago, he said, and things have been smoking up to the present. Literally. He said he toked up 10 minutes before I walked in and interviewed him.
After the dispensary, I continued to the southern reaches of Oregon. There I met the owner of a small farm (about 50 plants), along with three of his fellow farmers.
Meet Mae, Cody, Mike, and Amber.
Mike (second from right) moved into this 5-acre property with his girlfriend Amber about a year ago. Cody came from Iowa to lend Mike a hand with the crop in the background.
Those are marijuana trees.
And this region, ladies and gentlemen (southern Oregon and northern California) is what’s known as the “Green Triangle,” said Mae, who is from the next town over, where she works with her family on their own marijuana farm.
Of course, such a crop would land Mike in prison back in my state of Minnesota. But beyond the oddity of simply seeing these plants was the culture surrounding them.
“Rednecks vs. Hippies,” the foursome told me to describe the area residents.
“…and tweakers,” one added.
“If there’s a war, whose side are you on?” I asked.
“The Hippies,” they agreed.
Yet out here, one can’t be all peace and love.
“It’s the Wild West,” Mae said of life here.
With a strong anti-government ideology, they said residents have voted against having a local police force. And as it stands, there are only three sheriffs in the county for all the law enforcement.
A nearby resident later told me, “When you call the police, they tell you to call 9-1-1 if it’s an emergency.”
So, when it’s harvest time, Mike hires private security. Once one of his own workers tried to sabotage his crop. Mike said he took care of that with a choke hold. Then he saw the guy off his property by pointing his shotgun at him.
This is one, interesting part of the U.S. Here’s a glimpse of Mike’s farm. And forthcoming is our video interview, these four contributing their #VoicesofthePacificNorthwest.
In Oregon, marijuana culture is out from under the table and there for all to see.
In the fall Mike’s plants will be fruitful and ready to harvest.
…and then they arrive.
Each year, a society of migrant workers arrive from Europe, Canada, and across the US to work for weed. I hope to return, as well, to document these characters—these “trimmigrants” as they are called. I’m curious: Who are they? What are their stories? What is the mood, energy, and activity of this farm when they are here? And how are they received in this otherwise conservative county?
I hope to find out and show you.
In the meantime, next week we visit another farm—as in farmer’s market-type farms—along the Pacific coast of Oregon, along famous highway 101. There’ll be plenty of stunning sights (elk and sand dunes), more local encounters (fishermen), and some pause to consider another side of agriculture.
If you’d like to contribute or have a suggestion for a story or interview (perhaps your own), email me at firstname.lastname@example.org