In the mid-1960s, just as the majority of Oregon lumber mills began to bottom out, the state's first grapes of pinot noir were being planted by David Lett in the Willamette Valley. A decade later, his wines placed in prestigious competitions in France, and today Oregon vineyards contribute $1.4 billion annually to the state's economy.
Our craft-beer industry, launched by a group of homebrewers who lobbied the state to allow brewpubs in 1985, provided about $2.8 billion last year.
When it comes to cannabis, Oregon has a leg up as a pioneer of legalization with a reputation for agricultural excellence. Should federal legalization come to pass, our brands have the potential to be nationwide leaders.
But first we have to transcend old ideas about marijuana and recognize that it's a plant, and growing it is agriculture. Here's what I mean:
Let go of pot culture, and focus on science.
When you drink different types of wine or beer, the end result is essentially the same: You get drunk. Tequila may have a more dynamic effect than Coors Light, but the variance doesn't compare to the diverse cultivars of cannabis.
Some strains will help certain people focus and cause others to feel anxious; your individual body chemistry determines how you're affected. Dispensaries rely on the limited binary of mellow indica/uplifting sativa when categorizing strains on their shelves, but they should shift their explanations toward terpene concentrations when educating new customers. Terpenes give marijuana its aroma and subtle effects, like anti-inflammation and stress relief. People with a deeper understanding of terpenes will become the sommeliers of cannabis, sensing the floral hint of linalool and calming relaxation from myrcene.
Combine the best of indoor and outdoor growing methods.
If we want to grow the best marijuana Oregon can produce, we have to understand what marijuana likes about our climate. It's a nutrient-hungry plant that thrives in moist air and lots of sun, and though longtime enthusiasts swear by the enduring potency of outdoor ("sun-grown") flower, the consensus of most millennial smokers is that resinous indoor-grown buds are unrivaled. The best of modern indoor operations are contained, hospital-clean rooms. But if you're shopping for fruits and vegetables to eat, you'd rather they weren't grown in a windowless basement, right?
"If I had the land, I'd be excited to grow outdoor," says the master grower at Nelson & Company Organics, an indoor farm whose strains are available at some of Portland's top dispensaries.
Outdoor-grown flower tends to be hardier, he says, producing more potent and aromatic buds, but "laissez-faire curing and storage methods have given it a bad name."
"Growing indoor is not about total control," he says, "it's for removing the negative elements that are harder to control in nature, like rain and air pollutants."
Conscious outdoor growers have proved that careful curing periods in glass jars and occasional bursts of clean air can maintain potency better than indoor buds. When done right, greenhouses utilize the best of both worlds, combining powerful sunlight with climate control.
Find the right strains for the right regions.
Southern Oregon is known for massive outdoor grows, but that mainly has to do with sunny summers and privacy. No arrangement of indoor lighting can replicate the full spectrum of light emitted by the sun, but global warming will make more of Oregon prime for marijuana cultivation. As more growers incorporate sunlight across the state, desirable regions will become specialized, like AVAs in wine. Besides UV exposure, clean air near mountains or coastal wind currents may prove to bring out certain qualities in a particular strain.
We won't know until we get serious. David Lett studied pinot noir grapes and their native Burgundy until he understood everything about ideal soil type and climate when founding the Eyrie Vineyards in Dundee. Most importantly, we must establish environmentally sustainable practices founded in botany, not the fumbles of red-eyed heroes in stoner movies.
We have the chance to replicate what pinot noir did for the Willamette Valley. We just need the next Papa Pinot. Or Mama Master Kush.