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Winery or ‘weedery’: Vineyards rip up grapes, switch to pot

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JACKSONVILLE, Ore. (AP) — Bill and Barbara Steele moved to this sleepy corner of Oregon to start their own winery after successful, high-powered business careers.

Now, more than a decade later and with award-winning wine to show for their hard work, they are adding a new crop: marijuana.

Katherine Bryan laughs as she discusses the wines available for tasting at Deer Creek Vineyards in Selma, Ore. Bryan is one of a handful of vineyard owners and winemakers in this fertile corner of southwestern Oregon who are branching out into marijuana farming after the legalization of recreational weed in Oregon two years ago. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus)

Oregon’s legalization of recreational pot two years ago created room for entrepreneurial cross-pollination in this fertile region abutting California’s so-called Emerald Triangle, a well-known nirvana for outdoor weed cultivation.

Recreational marijuana cannot be sold legally in California until next year. But a few miles north of the border in Oregon, a handful of winemakers are experimenting with pot in hopes of increasing their appeal among young consumers and in niche markets.

“Baby boomers are drinking less. Millennials are coming into their time, economically, where in 2016 they were the fastest-growing consumers of wine, both in dollars and volume,” said Barbara Steele, who runs Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden in rural Jacksonville with her husband.

“They’re looking for an experience of ‘wine and weed.'”

The Steeles leased their land to grow 30 medical marijuana plants last year, and this year they are growing double that amount to be branded with the same label as their wine. They started with seeds in plastic cups under incubators in their laundry room, and pride themselves on a “seed to smoke” philosophy.

This year’s crop also is for medical use, but the Steeles are seeing the benefits of the expanding market from legal recreational pot. Their weed was reviewed alongside one of their white wines in Stoner Magazine, an Oregon cannabis publication.

“That conversation is possible here because our quality — the agricultural possibility — is so high. This is an amazing growing region,” Barbara Steele said.

It’s hard to know exactly how many in the wine industry are looking at pot here, but there’s plenty of buzz surrounding the subject.

Tiny marijuana seedlings push out of the soil in cups kept in a growing room owned by winemakers Bill and Barbara Steele at their winery, Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden, outside of Jacksonville, Ore. The Steele’s moved to this corner of southwestern Oregon more than a decade ago to produce their own wines and are now turning their attention to small-scale marijuana farming. Oregon’s legalization of recreational pot two years ago created room for entrepreneurial cross-pollination in this fertile region. (AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus)

Some vineyards are ripping out portions of grapes in favor of marijuana plants or leasing land to private growers. Others are talking about wine-and-weed tourism, including high-end shuttles that would stop at local wineries for tastings and at marijuana farms for glimpses of how pot is prepared for market.

“There are a few wineries setting up very large recreational grows right now,” said Brent Kenyon, of the marijuana consulting business Kenyon & Associates, based in southern Oregon. “The ‘weedery’ and the winery. I think that’s huge, and we see it developing.”

But that enthusiasm comes with a caveat. Marijuana is still federally illegal, and wineries must keep their wine and weed businesses separate or risk losing a federal permit that allows them to bottle and sell wine.

That means establishing two distinct lots for tax purposes and keeping two licenses with the state, said Christie Scott, alcohol program spokeswoman for the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which also licenses recreational marijuana. Vineyards that grow grapes but don’t have a liquor license, however, could get a recreational marijuana license, she said.

In the nearby Illinois Valley, Katherine Bryan is tackling these challenges as she launches a marijuana business with her son.

She owns Deer Creek Vineyards with her husband, but her pot operation will be called Bryan Family Gardens and will operate on land next to the vineyard.

“We want to be as transparent as possible because when you’re under the federal government umbrella for your wines, you have to be very, very careful,” Bryan said.

She plans to grow several hundred marijuana plants with a focus on organic cultivation and an eye toward a high-end market.

They already have some buyers lined up and are installing greenhouses and lighting as they await approval of their recreational license.

“I get $2,000 a ton for my pinot gris grapes, whereas I can make potentially $2,000 or more per pound of cannabis,” Bryan said. “We have 31,000 plants out here for grapes, so I’m pretty sure I can handle 300 to 500 cannabis plants.”

Mark Wisnovsky, of Valley View Winery in Jacksonville, says some vintners are upset because of the stigma associated with marijuana. But his family’s winery was the first in the Applegate Valley in 1971, and everyone thought they were crazy then, too, he said.

The family isn’t cultivating marijuana now, but Wisnovsky has been a vocal supporter of those who want to do so.

Diversifying with weed could save vineyard owners who have overplanted grapes for years, he added.

“A job’s a job, and money’s money, and we have capabilities here that are unique,” he said. “We either take advantage of the situation or let it steamroll over us.”

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This story has been clarified to show that marijuana cannot be sold legally in California until 2018.

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Follow Gillian Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus

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Push to legalize marijuana upends governor’s race in New Mexico

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Apodaca on Thursday called for the expansion of New Mexico’s medical marijuana program and for legalization of recreational use, saying the poverty-stricken state is missing out on millions of dollars in tax revenues and jobs that could be spurred by the industry.

Apodaca released his plan solidifying his position as a supporter of legalization as the race for governor heats up.

Apodaca pointed to New Mexico’s history as the first state to allow for research and experimentation with marijuana as a therapeutic drug. It was his father, then-Gov. Jerry Apodaca, who signed that legislation in 1978.

The research program stalled and it wasn’t until 2008 that New Mexico rolled out its medical cannabis program.

“Why are we shooting for being the last to legalize cannabis for adult use?” Apodaca said.

The push for legalization comes as New Mexico’s medical marijuana program has grown exponentially in just the last two years. Producers licensed under the program reported record sales of more than $86 million in 2017 and the number of patients enrolled now tops 50,000.

“We know the medical benefits of it. And we also know the opportunities of legalization for adult use,” Apodaca said, suggesting expansion of the long-standing medical marijuana program along with legalization could result in an estimated $200 million of additional tax revenues for the state.

The state’s largest producer, Ultra Health, announced that it has acquired farmland in southern New Mexico and has plans for what the industry says could be the largest cultivation facility in North America.

The property spans nearly one-third of a square mile (81 hectares) in Otero County. It will include 20 acres (8 hectares) of indoor cultivation, 80 acres (32 hectares) of outdoor cannabis fields and another 100 acres (40 hectares) of outdoor hemp fields.

Ultra Health president and CEO Duke Rodriguez said the company is preparing for a future in which New Mexico stands to benefit from expanded medical use and possibly recreational use.

Apodaca’s plan calls for lifting the current limits on the number of plants producers can grow and reducing costly licensing fees.

Other Democratic candidates have been more cautious.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham said she would work with state lawmakers to ensure there are adequate health, safety and enforcement measures in place. She called for a “thorough analysis” of recreational pot programs in other states as part of that effort.

Lujan Grisham was in charge of the state Health Department when the medical marijuana program began. Aside from the legalization debate, she said supporting producers to create the latest medicines and methods to help patients would help create jobs and expand the industry.

State Sen. Joseph Cervantes, another Democratic candidate, has sponsored unsuccessful legislation to decriminalize possession of small quantities of pot but has said the state is lacking infrastructure and isn’t ready yet to legalize.

Cervantes recently lauded efforts at the local level by the state’s largest city — Albuquerque — to decriminalize possession of small amounts. He said he would do the same as governor and that it would mark a first step.

Republican congressman and gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce expressed reservations about legalization at a forum earlier this month. He said it might create a stumbling block for people trying to climb out of poverty and addiction to other drugs.

“I just don’t see how it fits that we’re going to deal with addiction and yet we’re going to tell people, ‘This one is OK.’ I’ve watched it for a lifetime. I just am very nervous with recreational marijuana,” he said.

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Dem in New Mexico Governor’s race wants to legalize weed

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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Apodaca is calling for the expansion of New Mexico’s medical marijuana program and for legalization of recreational use.

Apodaca released his plan Thursday, saying New Mexico is losing out on jobs and tax revenues that could be generated by the industry.

New Mexico’s medical program has grown exponentially and now has more than 50,000 patients. Record sales were also reported in 2017.

At a recent forum, Republican Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Steve
Pearce expressed reservations about legalization.

Among the other Democratic candidates, U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham says she would support a measure that includes adequate health and enforcement measures to prevent underage use and workplace problems.

State Sen. Joseph Cervantes has sponsored unsuccessful legislation to decriminalize possession of small quantities of pot but has said the state isn’t ready yet to legalize.

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New England Journal of Medicine: Cannabis extract helps some children with epilepsy

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GW Pharmaceuticals' Epidiolex, a medicine made from marijuana, but without TCH, in New York. According to a study published Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine the medicine cut seizures in kids with a severe form of epilepsy, which strengthens the case for more research into pot's possible health benefits. (AP Photo/Kathy Young)

A medicine made from marijuana, without the stuff that gives a high, cut seizures in kids with a severe form of epilepsy in a study that strengthens the case for more research into pot’s possible health benefits.

“This is the first solid, rigorously obtained scientific data” that a marijuana compound is safe and effective for this problem, said one study leader, Dr. Orrin Devinsky of NYU Langone Medical Center.

He said research into promising medical uses has been hampered by requiring scientists to get special licenses, plus legal constraints and false notions of how risky marijuana is.

“Opiates kill over 30,000 Americans a year, alcohol kills over 80,000 a year. And marijuana, as best we know, probably kills less than 50 people a year,” Devinsky said.

The study was published Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine.

For years, desperate patients and parents have argued for more research and wider access to marijuana, with only anecdotal stories and small, flawed studies on their side. The new study is the first large, rigorous test — one group got the drug, another got a dummy version, and neither patients, parents nor doctors knew who took what until the study ended.

It tested a liquid form of cannabidiol, one of marijuana’s more than 100 ingredients, called Epidiolex, (eh’-pih-DYE’-uh-lehx). It doesn’t contain THC, the hallucinogenic ingredient, and is not sold anywhere yet, although its maker, GW Pharmaceuticals of London, is seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

The company paid for, designed and helped run the study, and another doctor involved in the study has related patents.

Patients in the study have Dravet (drah-VAY) syndrome , a type of epilepsy usually caused by a faulty gene. It starts in infancy and causes frequent seizures, some so long-lasting they require emergency care and can be fatal. Kids develop poorly, and their mental impairment seems related to the frequency of seizures — from 4 to as many as 1,717 a month in this study.

Allison Hendershot’s 12-year-old daughter Molly was four months old when she had her first. It lasted an hour and a half, and emergency room doctors medically induced a coma to stop it. Molly, who lives in Rochester, New York, has tried more than half a dozen medicines and a special diet, but her seizures continued.

“We literally could not count how many” before she started in the study, her mom said.

It included 120 children and teens, ages 2 to 18, in the U.S. and Europe. They took about a teaspoon of a sweet-smelling oil twice a day (drug or placebo) plus their usual anti-seizure medicines for 14 weeks. Their symptoms were compared to the previous four weeks.

Serious seizures with convulsions dropped from around 12 a month to about six for those on the drug and did not change in the others. Three patients on the drug became seizure-free during the study.

It’s no panacea, though. Diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, sleep problems and other issues were more frequent in the drug group. Twelve patients quit the study — nine on the drug and three in the placebo group.

Hendershot thinks her daughter got the dummy medicine because they saw no change in her seizures until the study ended and all participants were allowed to try the drug.

By the second day they saw a difference, and “she went seizure-free for two months. It was pretty remarkable,” Hendershot said.

The fact the drug came from marijuana “did not matter to me at all,” she said. “If it helps, we’re happy. I think people hear ‘cannabis’ or that it comes from marijuana and immediately there’s a stigma attached to it.”

For those who swear marijuana helped them, “anecdote has been confirmed by data,” Dr. Samuel Berkovic writes in a commentary in the medical journal. He is an epilepsy researcher at the University of Melbourne in Australia, where medical marijuana was legalized last year, and has worked with Devinsky in the past.

The drug is being tested in a second large study in kids with Dravet syndrome, and in studies of some other types of epilepsy.

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