Marijuana could join vineyards and pear orchards as Rogue Valley agricultural mainstays in southwest Oregon and draw in more tourists, pot growers say.
"I was a parent who said, 'Don't smoke this crap,' " Dewey Wilson, 61, told the Mail Tribune, noting that a decade ago he considered legalization of marijuana unimaginable. "I never thought this would happen. I've come full circle on the issue."
Wilson, who's growing 1,100 cannabis plants with a potential value of more than $2-million along the Rogue River, said he and his son began smoking marijuana for medical reasons.
He spent $2.5-million to buy the property last year and has spent another $500,000 on equipment, including surveillance cameras. He's also converted an old barn that once housed cows to be used for tourism if the state allows it. He calls his farm Tomato Hill Co., or THC, which is the active ingredient in marijuana.
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission says Jackson and adjacent Josephine counties have about half of the 258 indoor and outdoor grow sites in the state. And Jackson County has about a third of all the large commercial outdoor marijuana operations.
Commission Chairman Rob Patridge said it's not clear when supply might outpace demand for marijuana in Oregon. The state estimated that about 520,000 people in Oregon use pot, with the average weekend user consuming about 2 ounces a year.
The result is cattle farms being converted to grow marijuana crops.
"This is the old agriculture transitioning into the new," said Brent Kenyon, a consultant for growers, including Wilson's farm.
The owner of Green Valley Wellness, Michael Monarch, said he expects the commission will issue more licenses over the next year.
"There's about another 600 (applications) in progress right now," he said. "It takes a long time to get it right, and it's complicated navigating through all the steps."
Like Wilson, he expects more tourists visiting the area for the wine and pot industries.
"It's mayhem now - it's the wild West," Monarch says. "But the dust will settle."
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