Nine living marijuana plants will be displayed at the Oregon State Fair in a first of its kind event for the United States starting next Friday.
The exhibit of the non-flowering, immature plants brings pot cultivation more into the agricultural mainstream less than two years after Oregon voters legalized recreational marijuana. The Oregon Cannabis Business Council, which organized the exhibit, says it's the first time live cannabis will be shown at a state fair anywhere in the U.S.
The group last year had an informational booth about marijuana at the fair and there were no complaints - a key factor in allowing them to go one step further and offer live plants for viewing this year, said Dan Cox, spokesman for the Oregon State Fair.
The specimens were selected by judges at a competition last weekend who chose three winners each in the sativa, indica and hybrid categories.
The entire exhibit will be housed in a translucent tent and extra security will be on hand to check identification so only people 21 and over can enter, Cox said.
None of the plants are allowed have buds, which are more potent than the leaves.
That's because the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which will regulate the recreational marijuana business, is still finalizing regulations for the nascent industry and it's currently illegal to transport a flowering plant, said Donald Morse, director of the Oregon Cannabis Business Council.
Those regulations and a licensing process for recreational producers are expected by 2017. The industry hopes to have plants with buds at the fair next summer, Morse said.
Fair embraces controversial nature of the display
The event has raised some eyebrows, but Cox said the Oregon State Fair has always played a role in displaying the latest and sometimes controversial fads in agriculture and state culture. Nearly 20 years ago, he said, the fair had an exhibit on tattoo body art that caused a similar sensation.
"It is a showcase for traditional things. And yet it's always been a show place for the new, the different and the innovative," he said.
Oregon voters legalized recreational marijuana in a November 2014 ballot initiative after medical marijuana was legalized years earlier.
State cannabis sale are 'booming'
Recreational marijuana remains illegal in 46 states and under federal law. But in Oregon, the cannabis business has been booming.
Anticipated state revenue from recreational marijuana through June 2017 was recently quadrupled by Oregon's Legislative Revenue Office, from $8.4-million to $35-million.
Cox said there aren't plans to expand pot's place at the fair beyond the small exhibit, which is in a space rented by industry proponents.
But for marijuana fans, just getting a place at the table is worth celebrating.
"It's pretty awesome to be judging actual cannabis plants that are going to go into a state fair," said Tom Lauerman, one of six judges and an organic marijuana grower who was once arrested in a law enforcement drug raid targeting pot. "It kind of gives me goose bumps even talking about it."
The fair runs from Aug. 26 to Sept. 5 in Salem, Oregon.