Pubdate: Wed, 27 Jul 2016
Source: Mail Tribune, The (Medford, OR)
Copyright: 2016 The Mail Tribune
Note: Only prints LTEs from within it's circulation area, 200 word count limit
Author: Shaun Hall, Grants Pass Daily Courier


Critics Call the Assertion an 'Opinion,' and Author Admits It's A 'Guess'

Medical marijuana growers in Oregon are producing far more product 
than they or their customer-patients can consume, feeding a black 
market that doesn't appear to be going away soon, according to a 
controversial new report.

An estimated 70 percent of the crop will be distributed illegally 
next year, according to a draft report from the Portland consulting 
firm ECONorthwest, which has been hired by Josephine County and the 
city of Grants Pass to study the local economy, including the 
marijuana industry.

In a state hoping to rid itself of the drug's black market, this is 
indeed a dark number.

It is especially dark on a local level. On a per capita basis, 
Josephine County has by far the most medical marijuana cardholders 
(6,420), growers (4,617) and growsites (2,493) in the state.

But the "70 percent" estimate is only an opinion, albeit an educated 
one. It comes mainly from one analyst whose conclusions were both 
supported and criticized by sources contacted by the Daily Courier.

"It's really more opinion," said the analyst, Bob Whelan, who has 
testified before the Oregon Legislature for a group that advocated 
for legalized pot. "It's not like anyone goes out and collects 
information. You can ask 10 people and you get 10 different answers."

Whelan, an economist for 40 years, defended his estimate by comparing 
the number of plants allowed under the state's medical marijuana 
program with the number of patients.

"If you count the number of plants you can grow and compare it to the 
number of medical marijuana patients, it looks as though 70 percent 
is not being consumed," he said.

"It's a guess based on what economists call disappearance - the 
difference between what is produced vs. what's consumed. It truly is 
a guess. I've had other people guess higher."

Whelan said ECONorthwest's initial estimate of 60 percent diverted to 
illegal markets was upped after consultation with former Oregon State 
University instructor Seth Crawford, a former Galice resident who 
studied the Southern Oregon pot industry for his doctoral dissertation.

Crawford, who now operates a hemp farm near Corvallis, supports 
Whelan's conclusion.

"Seventy percent is probably about accurate," he said. "Oregon's 
marijuana production is three to five times what consumption is. We 
can't consume anywhere near what's produced here. Three to five times 
what's consumed is leaving here."

Poppycock, says Peter Gendron, president of the Williams-based Oregon 
SunGrown Growers' Guild.

"As a grower myself, and speaking for the people I work with, I would 
say that number's reversed," Gendron said. "I think they're upside down."

Gendron also is president of his own marijuana-development business.

"I develop legal canna-businesses," he said. "One hundred percent of 
my marijuana is distributed legally. I don't have any material that's 
being diverted."

Josephine County Commissioner Cherryl Walker, who recently held a 
series of town halls about marijuana land-use regulations and related 
topics, didn't dispute the 70 percent estimate.

"I'm not going to argue with it," she said, adding, however, that a 
person using the estimates should be "very judicious, because none of 
us knows."

"You have so many people growing, you know it's not all on a 
legitimate basis," she continued, noting that illegal marijuana has 
been grown for decades in Josephine County. "Just because 
recreational marijuana is legal, someone's not going to stop growing 
to become licensed."

Adding to the supply of marijuana is the increasing ability of 
growers to improve productivity of the best part of the marijuana 
plant, its flowers.

Crawford estimated that 5 pounds of flowers are taken on average, per 
plant, while the best growers are getting 15 pounds of flowers per plant.

"You guys are in, literally, one of the world's finest production 
environments, bar none," he said. "Highest quality flowers, biggest plants."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom