Alums bring education and leadership to legalized marijuana industry
Basketball brought Sarah ’01 and Obie ’04 Strickler together at SOU. Today, they are dynamic business leaders working to unite the region through education about legal marijuana possession and sale for those 21 years of age and older.
Sarah Strickler grew up in Ashland and attended Ashland High School. She was heavily recruited to attend SOU by Shirley Huyett, (women’s basketball) and Paul Elliott (volleyball). However, she accepted a full scholarship to NCAA D-I school University of Hawaii. While there, she helped lead the Rainbows to a Western Athletic Conference championship in 1998 while playing for head coach and former Raider Vince Goo ’70. Missing home, Sarah returned to Ashland after a couple of years. She continued to play basketball and completed her studies in 2001.
Sarah returned to SOU, because it felt like home to her. She studied journalism with Tom Pyle, a trusted mentor and respected instructor. She also interned at the Ashland Daily Tidings sports desk, led by current SOU Associate Athletic Director Bobby Heiken ’97. She worked at the newspaper part time during and after school and continued with it after earning her bachelor’s degree in journalism. When Sarah left the Tidings, it was to pursue a different interest with a focus on massage therapy.
“It’s funny because Obie and I met playing basketball at SOU, but not with our teams. We met competing against each other at ‘noon ball,’ which is a more relaxed playing environment where students and staff have fun while getting a workout,” said Sarah. She and Obie were married in 2004 and have three children.
Obie Strickler grew up in the Illinois Valley but transferred to Grants Pass High School his freshman year, where he played basketball. He attended SOU and played basketball his freshman and sophomore seasons, which included a Cascade Collegiate Conference championship run and a trip to the NAIA national tournament in 2000. Obie enjoyed SOU’s small class sizes and loved the diverse outdoor settings that turned into an outdoor laboratory for him with professors Charles Lane, Jad D’Allura and Monty Elliot.
“I really enjoyed my courses and also studied under Greg Jones, who was very influential and opened my eyes to GIS (geographic information systems) technology and the regional impact of climate change upon the wine industry,” he said.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in geology in 2004, Obie managed environmental cleanup for six years, and then handled the permitting and compliance work for Russell Mining for an additional four years. Medical marijuana was legalized in Oregon in 1998 and from 2006-2016, Obie and Sarah founded and operated a medical marijuana company and transitioned into the recreational marijuana industry after voters approved its legalization in 2014. By late 2016, they had started Grown Rogue, a marijuana growing and distribution company based in the Rogue Valley.
“It’s important for us to be a part of this community and help educate folks and change some of the perceptions about the industry. Marijuana and its byproducts can be misused and we are actively engaging with our customers in education and safe, responsible use,” said Sarah.
Community and education are two pillars Grown Rogue was built on when creating a strong foundation for a business that would last for the long-term. Their most recent community effort was hosting a panel discussion in January of 2022 on the topic of positive partnerships with the cannabis industry and the community. The panel included Obie, Sheriff Nathan Sickler, Watermaster Shavon Haynes, Michael Odenthal of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Jackson County Commissioner Dave Dotterrer, Shandell Clark of the Medford City Planner’s office and Oregon Senator Jeff Golden. They have also hosted similar events around the valley with different topics pertaining to the industry. Facility and operation tours are popular in the community. The tours are impactful in helping people learn about the plant, the process, and the business. In addition to their community efforts, Obie is the Chair of the Jackson County Marijuana Advisory Committee and Sarah serves on the Downtown Medford Association. They are also involved with the Tourism Council and the Medford Chamber of Commerce – being one of the first cannabis companies to join the Chamber. Sarah and Obie also support fire relief and recovery from the Almeda Fire and give to other local charities.
Initially, there was significant competition and price volatility in the industry. Between its Oregon indoor and outdoor facilities in the Rogue Valley and a facility in Michigan (opened in in 2020), Grown Rogue has solidified and grown the company so it now employs 120 people, a significant increase from the four employees they had in 2017. Grown Rogue even went public in Canada and is on the United States OTC in 2018.
“It’s exciting to be on the Canadian Securities Exchange, and it will be even more exciting when we can be traded on every market someday,” said Obie.
“Our experiences inside and outside of the classroom at SOU shaped and enriched our college years. Our time spent playing basketball for SOU was valuable to both of us as we learned how to balance academics while playing at a high level of competition. The dedication and mastery we found through practicing our sport created lifelong habits we attribute to our success today. We both agree that the intimate, smaller class sizes made for a more personal experience with professors and classmates. We were able to maximize class time and utilize the benefits from the close-knit feel of our classes. We are proud to say we are SOU graduates and Southern Oregon natives. We are honored to have our business headquarters here and know this community shaped who we are and what we do. Without our time spent at SOU, we know we would not be who we are today.
Learn more: Grown Rogue