Farmer Mandy Seybert was excited about showing off her prize-winning crop at this year’s Oregon State Fair – even if in much of the world, it might get her arrested.
The agricultural fair in the north-western US state is one of many in the US that celebrates farming, where exhibitors vie for honours for livestock, wool and fresh-baked bread.
This year, there’s a new farm product on display: marijuana, which became legal in the state in October 2015.
“For us, it’s monumental that we actually could come [to the state fair] and instead of bringing a cow here, we could actually bring a marijuana plant,” Seybert told dpa.
On the fair’s opening day, a steady stream of visitors filed past a security guard into a temporary greenhouse to admire, sniff and take selfies with prizewinning plants, adorned with traditional red or blue ribbons for those judged best.
“Even the state police stopped by to say hello,” said an obviously pleased Donald Morse, director of the Oregon Cannabis Business Council, which sponsored the competition.
For decades, marijuana reform was a reliable battleground in America’s culture wars, one politicians likened to a subway’s “third rail” – touch it and you’re dead.
But cultural and generational change have eroded its power, and states, which under the US system have broad power to enact their own laws, have led the way toward marijuana reform that would have been unthinkable just a generation ago.
Oregon is one of four states to have legalized marijuana for adult non-medical use since 2012, as has the capital district of Washington DC.
In November, at least five more will vote on legalization and four on allowing medicinal use, in ballot initiatives that have drawn notably less vocal opposition than those in recent years.
An additional 20 states already have laws allowing medical use of marijuana within varying guidelines, while four more have decriminalized possession of small amounts of pot, according to the advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project.
“The nation is changing its views on cannabis, and reform is not a flash in the pan but a certainty in the future of American public policy,” John Hudak of the Washington-based think tank Brookings Institution wrote in May.
Marijuana market researcher ArcView estimated legal marijuana sales will reach 6.7 billion dollars in 2016. The promise of a green gold rush has brought big money – and political clout – to reform measures.
But quietly, cultural attitudes have been changing, too.
A majority of Americans now back legalization, up from just a third in 2005, and some surveys have found more than 80 per cent support medical marijuana reform.
Celebrity marijuana enthusiasts Snoop Dogg, Rihanna and Miley Cyrus are in good company with Olympic champion Michael Phelps and the last three US presidents, all of whom admitted past marijuana use.
While state after state is reconsidering marijuana, federal laws have held fast. Marijuana is classified with heroin and LSD as a dangerous drug with no medical use, with penalties of up to 10 years in jail for possessing a single plant.
Under President Barack Obama, federal authorities have held their fire, mostly declining to enforce federal marijuana laws in states where the drug is permitted.
The standoff is likely to continue in the next administration. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have said they support states’ rights to enact their own medical marijuana laws, though they have largely dodged addressing full legalization on the state or federal levels.
At the Oregon State Fairgrounds, marijuana advocates and abstainers alike believed the fair’s newest exhibitor was there to stay.
“I think the genie’s out of the bottle,” said Morse, who said his Oregon Cannabis Business Council has grown in three years to 80 member businesses. “This became a states’ rights issue, and I don’t see them going back.”
Just a few rows away at the Oregon Republican Party’s exhibit booth, Terri Moffat agreed.
The lifelong member of the conservative party shrugged as she rearranged her stock of Donald Trump campaign buttons and stickers, dismissing suggestions she might be opposed to the marijuana greenhouse across the hall.
“It’s a free country, and it’s our law now,” she said. “I think they should be here if they choose to be here.”
Times were changing, Moffat said. She recounted how this year a marijuana store had moved in next door to the elections office in the nearby city of Eugene, where she works.
“It just gave me a weird headache going past it,” she said, explaining that she now crossed the street to avoid it.