Aug. 07–Jackson County planners have denied an application for a facility outside Eagle Point that would use ethanol to extract cannabidiol oil — a potential health aid — from industrial hemp.
Backers of the project are appealing the denial and had their first appearance before Jackson County Hearings Officer Roger Pearce on Monday. Pearce will take up the issue again on Oct. 15 as backers work to address concerns raised by planning and fire officials.
Recreational marijuana is now growing on the property along Brophy Road outside Eagle Point, according to D.J. McGinnis, compliance officer for Brophy Ranch LLC, which he says is the company that owns the property.
The company would like to switch over to industrial hemp, he said.
The hemp would then be processed using ethanol to extract cannabidiol, a cannabis compound that doesn’t make users high but is touted for its medical benefits.
The company would sell cannabidiol oil to others who make oil-infused topical ointments, edibles and other products.
Jackson County’s planning department issued a preliminary denial of the application for ethanol processing of industrial hemp on the land, which is zoned for exclusive farm use.
Jackson County Planner Ken Skyles said staff determined the proposal didn’t qualify as a facility for processing a farm product. Instead, he said the facility would be a higher impact industrial operation.
Skyles said the application was also missing key information.
McGinnis said Brophy Ranch LLC plans to hire a local land use consultant well-versed in marijuana issues.
Pearce, the hearings officer, said he needed to know more about how the hemp would be processed in order to make a decision about whether the operation would be appropriate for land zoned for exclusive farm use.
He noted there are many examples of farm crops being processed into products, but there is a line where regular agricultural operations become industrial. Pearce pointed to the example of cotton. Weaving cotton into sheets would no longer be an agricultural operation.
“At some point, to me, it stops being processing a farm product,” Pearce said.
He said the line can become fuzzy, such as with the processing of the plant foxglove.
“When do you stop being farm processing and become a medical lab?” Pearce asked.
Foxglove can be deadly, but is can also be used to make a drug to treat congestive heart failure and other ailments.
In addition to growing crops and raising animals, Oregon law governing exclusive farm use lands allows some other uses, such as farm stands, berry processing and fertilizer sales.
Cheryl Johnson, owner of the local West Coast Baked Goodness cannabis edibles company, said the processing of hemp to create cannabidiol oil should be allowed.
“It’s like essential oils. We allow lavender extraction,” she said.
Johnson said cannabidiol oil can be used in medically beneficial baked goods, ointments and other products.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved cannabidiol-based drugs for treating seizure disorders.
Because it can ease anxiety, pain, insomnia and other symptoms of addiction, cannabidiol could be a promising treatment to help people addicted to cigarettes and opioids, according to studies published in addiction and neuroscience journals.
Other research has found cannabidiol could help with everything from acne to Alzheimer’s disease.
Cannibidiol is different than the most well-known cannabinoid — tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — which produces a high in marijuana users.
Jackson County Development Services Director Ted Zuk said processing cannibidiol oil can pose a fire risk, whether it’s processed with ethanol or other substances like butane.
There is a potential for the extraction units, which are under pressure, to explode, he said.
McGinnis said backers of the extraction facility would follow safety precautions, including any requirements from Jackson County Fire District No. 3, which serves the rural Eagle Point area.
Johnson said when the public and media hear about exploding marijuana extract labs, such as butane honey oil labs, those are run by illegal operators who aren’t following safety precautions.
Johnson said makers of health products prefer to buy cannabidiol oil processed with ethanol because it’s a cleaner process than cannabidiol oil made with the use of butane.
McGinnis said significantly more cannabidiol oil can be produced with ethanol than through butane or carbon dioxide methods. Ethanol can also be extracted from the hemp itself, increasing the efficiency and productivity of the process.
The growing of hemp to produce cannabidiol is becoming increasingly popular across the Rogue Valley and the state.
A glut of legal marijuana in Oregon has caused many growers and business investors to turn to hemp and cannabidiol production as the next lucrative venture in the cannabis “green rush”, the Associated Press reported in May.
Colorado has the most hemp production in the nation, followed by Oregon, the AP said.
Hemp and marijuana are both varieties of cannabis plants.
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