Cannabis Growers Seek Blue Ribbons For Their Buds At Oregon's State Fair This year, Oregon's Legislature designated marijuana, which is legal there for recreational use, as a farm crop. It debuted among funnel cakes, livestock and zucchini this summer at the state fair.
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Cannabis Growers Seek Blue Ribbons For Their Buds At Oregon's State Fair

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Cannabis Growers Seek Blue Ribbons For Their Buds At Oregon's State Fair

Cannabis Growers Seek Blue Ribbons For Their Buds At Oregon's State Fair

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The state fair. Whether you're in Maine or Michigan, it's the place to see prize-winning tomatoes and zucchini that weigh more than the kids who grew them. Well, this year, the Oregon State Fair is introducing a new crop - marijuana. From Salem, Ore., Deena Prichep reports.

DEENA PRICHEP, BYLINE: State fairs have their own smell, a mix of hot oil from the curly fries and that unmistakable livestock tent.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHEEP BLEATING)

PRICHEP: But here at Oregon State Fair, one exhibit has a particularly distinctive funk.

DON MORSE: It was this year that the state legislature designated cannabis as a farm crop. And the general public should know what it's all about.

PRICHEP: Don Morse is the head of the Oregon Cannabis Business Council. And the tent - which has a strong, piney, somewhat skunky smell - features nine prize-winning marijuana plants. They're the first live pot plants that have ever been shown at a state fair.

MORSE: The judges used a number of criteria - spatial noding, leaf structure, aroma.

PRICHEP: To be clear, the judges didn't actually sample the finished product. And the health and appearance of the plants don't necessarily translate to their potency or how much of the psychoactive compounds are in the end result. But still, there's some glory to be had.

MANDY SEYBERT: We've never shown anything at a state fair. It would be, like, my husband's dream to be able to show some of our cattle or his pigs or stuff. It's a pretty big deal for us (laughter).

PRICHEP: Grower Mandy Seybert's livestock is back at the farm, but her cannabis plant took second place for the Indica variety. She's been fielding questions in the tent all day.

SEYBERT: Basically just, like, what strains are these or I've never seen a plant up front or oh, my plants look way better than this. You know, that type of stuff (laughter).

PRICHEP: Since a 2014 vote legalized recreational pot in Oregon, cannabis has become big business - setting up farms, opening dispensaries and taking in taxes. So while this is the first time cannabis plants have been at a state fair, for Oregonians it's not shocking. It's a photo op.

GARVIN REITER: It was definitely number one on our list. I mean, it's a lot better than corn dogs.

PRICHEP: Garvin Reiter, like everyone else in the tent, is just sort of amused.

REITER: It's not really much of a surprise, honestly, to see it at the state fair because it's everywhere. Plus, you can just go down to the store and buy it if you want some.

PRICHEP: Like the stores, the state fair tent has people checking IDs to make sure visitors are over 21. But folks like Reiter are clearly having a bit more fun than they would at the corner shop.

REITER: You know, it's up there with the prize-winning turnips, so that part you really got to love.

PRICHEP: Well, not quite. These plants are at the state fair, but they're not next to the turnips. The cannabis tent isn't a pavilion with commercial vendors, people trying to win you over on new cleaning products and exotic pets. Don Morse with the Oregon Cannabis Business Council would love to see cannabis in the agricultural tent just like any other Oregon crop.

MORSE: Not only are we gaining the trust of the board of directors of the state fair, but we're gaining the trust of the public. My goal today is to have someone walk through that's never seen it or heard, you know, how it's made or grown or anything like that and say, I don't see what the big deal is.

PRICHEP: And based on this year's state fair crowd, Oregon cannabis growers are well on their way to meeting that goal. For NPR News, I'm Deena Prichep in Salem, Ore.

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