To the list of breakthroughs in an ever-changing world where cars drive themselves, faces are surgically transplanted and Russian hackers are accused of manipulating the U.S. presidential campaign, add this development: marijuana growers can now compete for blue ribbons in the state fair.
That's what Oregon officials say will happen at their fair in Salem next month. Besides tastiest apple pie and plumpest pig, pot will be judged for its finer attributes, including color, aroma, leaf structure and lack of pests.
The top growers will become the nation's first-ever winners of a state fair ribbon honoring a farm crop outlawed by the federal government. For some, the contest effectively adds another H to the 4-H Club: Herb.
"We regularly reach out to the community with some form of education, to de-stigmatize the industry and the plant," Don Morse, chair of the Oregon Cannabis Business Council, told leafly.com this week. "For the people at the state fair to let this happen is really groundbreaking."
The inclusion of marijuana in a state fair speaks to its suddenly booming reputation as a cash crop and its growers as the future farmers of America, at least in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Alaska, and Washington, D.C., where, since 2012, voters have approved legal recreational use of marijuana. It remains illegal in the eyes of the federal government.
California and Nevada are among eight states set to vote on legalization this fall. Marijuana Business Daily predicts legal pot could become an $8-billion industry in two years.
Overseeing the Oregon fair's panel of judges – and helping sample entries - will be Ed Rosenthal, the 71-year-old Guru of Ganja, as he calls himself. The Oakland publisher, activist and author will help the panel pick nine winners at a pre-fair elimination contest to be held at the fairgrounds Aug. 13-14.
More than 60 growers are expected to showcase their "live" cannabis plants at that event, called the Oregon Cannabis Fair. Three winners in each of three categories based on plant types - sativa, indica and hybrids – will be awarded ribbons and their prize-winning plants put on display at the state fair starting Aug. 26.
Morse, the council chair, says the weed winners and runners-up will receive traditional fair ribbons - blue, purple or yellow.
All plants have to be in vegetative (nonflowering) form, according to an entry form. The state fair exhibit will be displayed in a greenhouse and monitored by a security guard. Visitors must be 21 or older.
"We are not promoting the use of cannabis," Morse told the Oregonian. "We are there to show plants to people over 21 what award-winning cannabis plants look like."
And no, marijuana smoking will not be allowed, he added.