Even by the standards of Oregon’s comparatively lax cannabis laws, Yon Olsen’s farm stands out. About 20 acres of farmland used to grow cannabis sits uncovered, in 825-foot rows where a nursery used to sit. Approximately 20 tons of freshly picked bushels of the plant sat in giant bags on his property to the east of Bend, ready to be sent to a processor.
However, because Olsen’s company, Cascadia, makes hemp — distinct from marijuana due to its much lower THC content — Olsen can grow massive amounts of the plant out in the open, without challenges from neighbors.
“It’s the same plant,” Olsen said. “Same smell, same visual impact, but it doesn’t have the same regulatory format, so we’re allowed to have fun and scale to levels that no one has ever been able to in the history of cannabis production.”
Marijuana, the psychoactive variant of the cannabis plant, has drawn headlines and controversy since Measure 91 passed in Oregon, with even small Deschutes County marijuana facilities drawing the ire of neighbors. Hemp has seen its own growth in the shadow of its psychoactive cousin, however, in Deschutes County and across the country. And some industry advocates believe this is only the beginning.
“The market (for hemp) is basically every human and every animal on the planet,” said Matt Cyrus, president of the Deschutes County Farm Bureau.
Like marijuana, hemp faced a rocky road to legalization. At the federal level, the Agricultural Act of 2014 allowed people to grow hemp wherever the crop is legal under state law. In Oregon, legalization was delayed, and much of the initial framework for the state’s hemp industry stems from House Bill 4060, passed in 2016 with support from the newly formed Oregon Industrial Hemp