Are You Team Pinot Or Team Pot? Why The Debate Has One Community Choosing Sides
The battle between the Wagner family and their neighbors could be a sign of clashes to come as cannabis becomes a legal crop in more states. Wine producers fear for their grapes if weed grows nearby; weed growers say those fears are unfounded.
Buzz Feed News / by Alyson Martin / August 1, 2017
When the Wagner family bought property in Yamhill County, a land of rolling hills, winding roads, and grapevines southwest of Portland, Oregon, they expected to have to obtain permits to break into the marijuana business. They didn’t anticipate that months later, they’d be caught in a battle with neighboring grape growers who say weed and wine don’t mix.
It all began in late 2016, when Mary and Steven Wagner closed a deal on a plot of land in the Willamette Valley for their son, Richard, to launch a legal marijuana-growing and -processing operation. The younger Wagner, an outdoorsy 33-year-old whose Instagram account quickly filled with photographs of the idyllic setting, didn’t try to hide his ambitions.
“Big projects will be starting soon,” he wrote in a post dropped between others showing close-ups of fat buds and lush marijuana plants. He excitedly detailed plans for a greenhouse and sun-grown cannabis crops, along with an 8,000-square-foot, two-story building for breeding, curing, processing, and packaging.
“The southern part of our fine state isn’t the only zone that grows amazing, high-grade cannabis under the sun!” Richard added in another post, in which he lavished praise on the Willamette Valley for its agricultural opportunities and cool, clean air. Ideal, he said, “for the thirsty gals,” or the pot plants he envisioned blanketing the land. Adding to his joy were the “world class biodynamic vineyards” that Richard noted were nearby. “I won’t have to worry about spray drift or any other factors involved in their practices that will negatively effect the purity of my environment,” he wrote.
It turned out Richard wasn’t the only one in the neighborhood concerned about the purity of the environment. In April, neighboring wine producers went to court seeking a temporary restraining order to block the marijuana business, arguing that cannabis would damage their vineyards and businesses by sending “foul-smelling particles” through the air that would settle onto their fragile grapevines. A judge ruled against the neighbors, but the Wagners faced more pushback from county commissioners and a drawn-out fight that could be repeated elsewhere as cannabis growers compete with more traditional businesses wary of the new crop on the block.
“What they’re really opposed to is not the processing, I don’t think. They’re opposed to, primarily, just having growing marijuana there,” Richard’s mother, Mary, told BuzzFeed News. “It’s fear. They’re afraid of bringing crime into the area. A different element.”
She might be right. While 56% of Oregon voters approved legalization of recreational marijuana in 2014, the measure narrowly failed in Yamhill, traditionally a conservative, rural farming area. There, 50.4% of the voters were against legal weed.
Yamhill County is not Napa, but the county is responsible for the largest percentage of wine-related revenue in Oregon. Harihara Mahesh, one of the plaintiffs who sought the restraining order, said in court documents that he’d have to cancel plans for a 2.5-acre vineyard near the Wagner plot if it meant “exposing the vines and grapes to foul-smelling particles” from pot plants. “My new vines, and any future grapes, will be immediately and irreparably damaged,” Mahesh wrote.
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