SALEM — After last year’s high-profile debut of award-winning cannabis crops at the Oregon State Fair, visitors this year may have been surprised by the absence of plants.
“It is extremely unfortunate because 30,000 people came to the state fair last year specifically to see the cannabis display,” said Pete Gendron, president of Sungrown Growers’ Guild, citing 2016 state fair statistics.
A law enacted by the state Legislature in May was intended specifically to sanction the display of marijuana plants at the annual state fair in Oregon’s capital city.
“The bill allows … compliant licensees to exhibit at trade shows,” state Sen. Ted Ferrioli, the bill’s co-sponsor, said on the Senate floor in May. “If you remember the 2016 Oregon State Fair … did have some exhibits. This puts it in statute, allows it and would also specifically designate the state fair a proper venue so long as they maintain full compliance with (Oregon Liquor Control Commission) laws.”
Yet the liquor commission, the state’s alcohol and marijuana regulator, issued last-minute temporary rules that effectively prevented organizers from displaying any actual plants.
The rules require organizers to submit an application and receive agency approval for any participant in an exhibit at least 28 days before the event date.
Notice of changes to the application process was sent out Aug. 17, one week before the 10-day state fair kicked off in Salem.
Last year, organizers of the cannabis exhibit displayed plants that had won awards at the Oregon Growers’ Fair earlier in August.
This year, organizers displayed cannabis-sourced products from retailers. State rules prohibited any of the products from being sold or consumed at the state fair.
Part of the snafu with exhibiting plants stemmed from a transition in the authority for regulating the marijuana industry from the Oregon Health Authority to the liquor commission.
“It was a system we weren’t familiar with,” said Mark Pettinger, a liquor commission spokesman.
Four marijuana exhibit events that preceded the fair were a process of trial and error while the agency refined temporary rules, Pettinger said.
“It would be reasonable to assume if the state fair event is on the books next year and we have a year under our belt for the industry and for us as regulators, it would go a lot smoother and be a lot easier,” he said.
Donald Morse, director of the Oregon Cannabis Business Council, which organized this year’s cannabis exhibit at the state fair, said being barred from showing plants was disappointing, but it is part of “growing pains” for the industry and for state regulators.
“That is OK because we wanted to highlight what happens after the plants grew and how it was used in edibles and topicals so we have those items on display,” Morse said.
Gendron said his guild will work to make sure there is “a robust plant display at the 2018 Oregon State Fair.”
The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group.