The Network Explores the Coexistence of Cannabis and the Food System

At the close of 2016, the RVFSN council members voted to explore the intersection of the cannabis industry and the food system in 2017. The main reason for this decision was that council members had been observing a heightened interest in the topic among food system stakeholders over the previous two years. Given that recreational use of cannabis has been legalized and the industry is rapidly developing in the Rogue Valley, we feel it is critical to foster healthy conversations around the question of how the cannabis industry and food production could coexist.

In February, council members Vince Smith, Maud Powell, Greg Holmes, and Stu O’neill, as well as Megan Fehrman from Rogue Farm Corps, and Regan Emmons, the RVFSN coordinator formed a cannabis working group. They immediately went to work organizing and hosting a cannabis stakeholder meeting in March. This invite-only meeting had 25 people in attendance who represented policy and land-use experts, labor contractors, cannabis growers, food farmers, and others involved in the cannabis industry. Participants were asked about challenges and opportunities they experienced or observed, what potential solutions that could be pursued to foster coexistence, and how they would suggest bringing this conversation to the broader public.

The stakeholder meeting underscored the shared experiences of cannabis growers and food farmers. Both reported concerns about outside interests and threats, challenges in finding high-quality labor, and in sourcing high-quality products and infrastructure to support their businesses. Lastly, as the future of the cannabis industry is unpredictable, no one knows what the long-term impacts and implications will be in the Rogue Valley. Potential solutions that received the most support at the meeting included: developing partnerships, sharing information and resources between the two industries, educating the public about the potential economic benefits to communities, and supporting sustainably grown cannabis operations.

Stakeholders agreed that having small neighbor to neighbor meetings was the best way to bring the conversation to the community. They also recognized a need to educate the public on what challenges and opportunities exist.

On July 19th, RVFSN hosted a public meeting in Medford during which a panel of professionals addressed water resources, soil fertility, land use planning, rules and regulations, and labor issues. After the panelists presented, the audience asked questions. The video and notes from that meeting can be found in the link above and on the Public Meetings and Forums page.

In September, the network hosted 5 cannabis community conversations in different communities throughout the Rogue Valley. These conversations served as a way for community members to learn about the issues and provided an opportunity to share ideas on how we can best realize a healthy coexistence between the cannabis industry and the food system.

The notes from the community conversations will be summarized and shared with the public once completed. An article will be authored in 2018 that will include recommendations for further exploration.

-Regan Emmons, Coordinator