Medicine for the masses

By Natalie Sustaire Castañeda

Cannabis is both a medicine and an antidote, says Matthew Ochoa. The plant is a reminder that the human experience is driven by our states of mind, he says. “When we remember that, we realize that we are enough — and we have enough.”

This philosophy drives Ochoa’s Jefferson Packing House, founded to make cannabis accessible. Ochoa’s efforts came to a halt in 2004, when he was sentenced to serve time in federal prison for “possession of marijuana and intent to distribute a controlled substance,” which many of us dismiss as a “crime.”

Separated from his infant daughter for two and half years, Ochoa experienced first-hand the pain caused by yet another hurdle in the cannabis industry, but his ordeal illuminated more than that. “It’s wrong how this country treats cannabis, and I want to re-educate the general public that this is actually a good medicine and a good thing that my friends and I are doing.”

Raised in “weed-friendly” Ashland, with a background in the industry since age 16, Ochoa recognized the plant’s benefits from the beginning. It was solace for the gardener, creative tool for the artist, escape for the busy parent, income source for many and, in countless different ways, vital medicine for many more.

A simple plant, cannabis created the surrounding community that Ochoa respected and admired. But it wasn’t until his first personal experience with cannabis that it became more than a hustle.

“A friend was treating himself for cancer and asked if I’d try RSO (Rick Simpson oil) with him. I took probably a rice-kernel size of RSO, and it totally blasted me, like up all night understanding the universe in a whole new way! I really saw that this guy was dealing with this cancer as a result of his belief that he wasn’t enough as himself in the world, so he was acting from a place of angst — wanting to drive himself so hard and give so much but felt that he wasn’t good enough still. And I saw that in myself, as well. He was really sick with this sense that he couldn’t provide enough, and in that night it clicked that this is our cultural illness.

“We live in this consumer- and progress-driven culture that’s programmed to want more, better, faster … All that translates to ‘not enough right now.’ Then I remembered many of my friends that were stoners being so content while I run around being a hustler, and I realized I had this opportunity to create a mechanism that brings the product from the field to the consumer with the brand identity of quality of life and wellbeing. This mechanism, this company, could deliver this medicine to remember.”

After more than 20 years in the cannabis industry, Ochoa shaped his observation into a team that facilitates, since 2016, the process between producers and retailers, laying the foundation for Jefferson Packing House.

Ease and peace of mind is JPH’s goal; that’s why it provides harvest service and a one-stop shop after harvest time. The facility is suited to drying, curing, grading, trimming, packaging and freeze-drying, as well as distribution. Offering all of these services under one roof consolidates post-harvest work and conserves resources needed to profit from the crop that producers put their hearts into all year long.

Work to get product onto shelves doesn’t have to be the daunting task for producers that it’s been in the past. That’s the driving force behind JPH and what Ochoa set in motion when operations began in August 2017, just in time for outdoor harvest in Southern Oregon. It was a trying season for everyone in the recreational market, and JPH proved its grit by servicing more than 30 farms around the region, filling 19,000 square feet of temperature- and humidity-controlled dry-room space and employing more than 50 local residents.

In the heart of Southern Oregon, JPH also is creating a niche opportunity for all industry professionals to connect and benefit. Because of its position with producers, the company has become a hub of information and a central marketplace for wholesalers, who can view and simultaneously shop multiple farms’ products — a great alternative to spending all day driving between farms.

JPH also furnishes a compliance solution for many producers and wholesalers. Within its secured facility, JPH provides storage that minimizes products’ vulnerability to theft. An 8-foot razor-wire fence surrounds the 19,000-square-foot, licensed and insured facility within minutes’ response time of local police.

In addition to daily operations and services during harvest and the off-season, JPH is preparing for the day when lines in the sand are erased and national legalization creates more opportunity for Oregon.

“We (in Oregon) know we’re an export state, and we don’t have that ability … yet,” says Ochoa. “I built this business model to be able to function within the restricted market and also be able to scale fast for when we get national and international distribution. If we can just hold on until that time … it’s been a struggle but we’re still here!”

With strong hope for the future, JPH’s outreach team is putting local effort toward upholding Oregon as an industry example to other states. The company is active in local cannabis community groups, including the Jackson County Marijuana Advisory Committee, Josephine County Growers Association and Oregon Retailers of Cannabis Association in Portland.

“The DEA is giving more airtime to the opioid epidemic and the harm it brings, but what you don’t hear is that, simultaneously, there’s been a 15- to 25-percent decrease of these opioid overdoses in states that have legal recreational markets,” says Ochoa. “We are hoping to get these facts to those outside the cannabis community who aren’t hearing enough about the benefits of states having legal ‘rec’ markets.”

“Ultimately, I believe in it, and I know that we can see this industry scale if we keep going,” he says. “You can either stand by and wonder — or go for it. And that’s what I plan to keep doing: giving it everything I have.

“I know that what I can give every day is, and will always be, enough.”