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Obie Strickler, founder of Rogue Grown, walks through his company's indoor growing facility in Medford. - JAMIE LUSCH / MAIL TRIBUNE

Building a cannabis community

Like timber and pears before them, the cannabis industry is fast realizing it has become a major economic player in the region — and it’s time to forget the extra-legal past and start talking about projecting a positive, involved image, talking up job creation, volunteering and contributing to worthy social causes and living the life of active leaders of our communities.


That’s the message of Grown Rogue’s Obie and Sarah Strickler, who have organized a series of monthly mixers to bring together people in the local cannabis industry.


A March 21 event at the Brickroom in Ashland focused on how cannabis dispensary operators and producers can help reach the mainstream consumer and what the industry can do to shift the perceptions of cannabis in popular culture.


The first event, in February at Two Hawks Winery, was attended by people from 20-some cannabis companies, where they talked about ways to orient in this direction and get the vibe that they’re all in this new industry together, so they should help and network with each other, share skills and goals and enlarge their vital roles in the community and economy.


A few weeks later, after a tour of their 17,000-square-foot cultivating factory/nursery-grow rooms/trim lab in an industrial area off Rossanley Drive in Medford, Obie says, “We’re taking a mature manufacturing industry and putting standard business practices around it. That’s why community is so important to us. We live here. We want to make sure we develop in ways the community can be proud of.”


Does that sound like the boilerplate of old-line corporate CEOs? Well, it is.


Pot has grown up and bought a nice suit of clothes. Strickler markets products throughout Oregon — even burnishes the “active lifestyle” image of the industry by sponsoring a professional bicycling team in Portland — but he talks about opening into the California market (using their cannabis) and, as legal strictures relax, to the whole nation and world.


Grown Rogue has 30 employees, which, he notes, “is a lot of economic stimulus. … We’re making it more approachable and taking away the old stigma associated with the industry. We’re putting this industry and the community together and getting them talking, in a nonconfrontational setting, working with our neighbors.


“We believe cannabis is a very important part of Southern Oregon’s future — jobs, quality of life, economic stimulus for everyone. We’re all in it together so let’s not compete and fight over dollars.”


Strickler compares the new cannabis industry here to Napa Valley’s wine empire, noting you don’t go there to visit one particular winery, but to drink wine. It’s the whole thing that’s enjoyable.


“People are going to flood to the Rogue Valley, not just for the great cannabis we grow here, but also to enjoy tours, restaurants, hotels, breweries, wineries, rafting, Shakespeare,” says Sarah. “It’s an exciting new industry and a great growth opportunity.”


Grown Rogue’s marketing is based on the initials R-O-G-U-E:


Relax: unwind, indulge, sleep, chill (classic indica)


Optimize: be present, do chores, get creative


Groove: conversation, abstract thinking, take the edge off, get in the zone


Uplift: hike, bike, “perfect boost”


Energize: like espresso, vigorous, charge up for that run or dance (classic sativa)


These are not just gimmicks, they say. The company sorts its pot into those five categories and boasts of a psychologist on the payroll who interviews users to find out exactly what feeling they get from various strains.


Their “factory” includes a one-third acre indoor grow (they have two outdoor grows of an acre each). The indoor grow is dazzlingly lit with 42 blinding lights along 52-foot tables that can be rolled with one hand. He notes that the constant “sunlight” (no clouds inside), and the lack of pests and disease, produces a more visually attractive weed — and consumers like that.


The Stricklers say they are interfacing with all regulators and getting to know them on a personal basis, including code compliance officers with the city of Medford and folks from the Energy Trust of Oregon, which incentivizes lower energy use. Obie is a member of the Jackson County Marijuana Advisory Commission, an official governmental body.


They are especially proud of a recent innovation — a nitrogen-sealed glass tube with two all-bud pre-rolls, “convenient and discreet,” according to a product blurb. The company’s products are sold in seven Southern Oregon dispensaries, according to its website, including Oregon Grown Cannabis Recreational Dispensary and Kush Gardens in Medford, Top Shelf Wellness Center in Phoenix, Talent Health Club in Talent, Skunk RX and Southern Oregon Cannabis Connection in Grants Pass, and Papa’s Dispensary in Cave Junction.


Obie Strickler says the industry in general seeks to overcome a significant financial services obstacle, since the decades-old federal Schedule 1 listing of cannabis (reserved for highly addictive substances with no medical value) remains in place, thus obstructing banks from handling deposits, lines of credit or loans, services that are available to all other businesses.


“It’s a big challenge. Taxes and Social Security are a problem. We’re working toward cashless transactions, all digital, like Uber does. … There are solutions in software, getting all systems talking to each other. We are seeing more nimble, smaller banks solving the industry’s problems. We are going to persevere.”


Obie says the industry here is working on the Schedule 1 listing problem, but with state and local officials, not the intractable and highly conservative Congress. He also dismisses the sabre-rattling of the federal Justice Department, directed at states that have legalized weed.


“The states have spoken. The population across the nation supports it. We’re not going to see any rollback.”


Both Stricklers are locally born and raised. Obie is from the Illinois Valley and graduated from Grants Pass High School and from Southern Oregon University, where he studied geology. He worked in natural resources jobs before this venture.


Sarah, the community relations director of the firm, is from Ashland, has a degree from SOU and played basketball for University of Hawaii. They live near Jacksonville.


“It really excites me to see the revitalization of agriculture going on (after the collapse here of the pear industry). It’s starting to really prosper,” she says. “The area is so rich already, and then there’s the potential for export to the world. But who knows what the political environment will be?”


John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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