Press "Enter" to skip to content

The marijuana jobs watch

Ben Jacklet's column in Oregon Business is often good for some unusual takes on the economic picture in Oregon. As with this headline: "Jobs Watch: Marijuana measure makes ballot."

It harks back a bit to two, count 'em two, editorials in the Oregonian in just the last week that seem to be pushing gently but directly in the direction of calling for legalizing marijuana. One arguing that posing that question on the ballot directly, rather than dancing around it with the current measure on pot dispensaries, might be preferable. The second on Friday seemingly expressing support (without daring to be explicit about it) for an international statement saying that the war on drugs is making a number of things, HIV infection rates among them, worse rather than better.

Then there's Jacklet's piece from July 16 on the present ballot issue. From the business standpoint: "Such a system would almost certainly result in a gold rush to tap into the growing market for legal weed, which has been lucratively exploited in California and Colorado. Marijuana is the nation's largest cash crop, and any move to update regulations controlling how it is grown and sold will create opportunities . . ."

He has provided some useful numbers to demonstrate: An Oregon pot crop estimated to have $474 million of value; 36,402 Oregon medical marijuana patients; and a good deal more.

The discussion is changing.

Medical Marijuana Awareness Week

Kitty Piercy

Kitty Piercy

There will be a Global Marijuana March in downtown Eugene on Saturday. Nothing man-bites-dog in that; Eugene's that kind of town. What's a little more interesting is that Eugene's mayor, Kitty Piercy, is expected to be among the marchers.

Nor is that all: She is declaring upcoming week as “Medical Marijuana Awareness Week.” (She said that she isn't intending to get into the debate on legalizing marijuana generally, only to support allowance of its medica use.)

Now, granted, this is Eugene. But there does seem to be something in the wind.

“It’s all going to pot”

rainey

“Well, it’s all goin’ to pot,
Whether we like it or not.
Best I can tell,
The world’s goin’ to Hell,
And we’re gonna miss it a lot.”

Willie and Merle. My favorite dispensers of wisdom. And - often - reality.

When that song made the charts a few years back, we Oregonians were tinkering with the idea of legalizing marijuana. Backers had been trying unsuccessfully to get the issue on ballot before. But, in 2014, with more research and the history of other pot-legal states on the record, things seemed more in line for passage.

Those states had taken the step and survived, making the idea of recreational pot less onerous. Their histories were largely positive. Medical and social resistance didn’t seem as strong. National statistics didn’t show necessarily higher rates of crime or more bad driving being traced to pot. Even some of the voices of opposition weren’t as strident. The question of legality got to the ballot. And passed 56%-44%.

To the legislative credit of both Democrats and Republicans, the new law was carefully crafted. An experienced Oregon Liquor Control Commission was tasked with creating the first rules and taking oversight as applicants for licenses lined up in the halls in Salem.

Sales started July 1, 2015. In general terms, all the bad things that were supposed to happen haven’t. No sharp rise in highway deaths/accidents because of new pot access. No increased cases of family breakups traced to pot use. Local communities decided for themselves whether to allow sales. Some did. Some didn’t. All in all, implementation came and went and everybody went back to whatever they were doing the day before.

But - on the plus side - things have been very, very busy. For example, the number of sales outlets in the first 18 months under the new permissive law went from zero to 487! A weed-like growth spurt. You should pardon me.

And that’s not all. Oregon has also licensed laboratories, processors, producers, wholesalers and researchers. All together, 1,802 licensees in our flourishing public pot industry. All subject to paying taxes.

So, has it paid off? Well, year-to-date (December 30), the marijuana tax of 25% has brought in - wait for it - $60,000,000 for 2016! The State will deduct costs of collection - a few million. Then, 40% of what’s left will go to education, 20% drug services and mental health. The rest to drug abuse prevention and law enforcement.

By the way, this doesn’t include what counties and local communities are taking in. Each has authority to levy a local tax. Most do. And they’ve been pleasantly surprised at the size of this new largesse. Financially, everybody’s smiling.

A monthly breakdown of when the bucks flow in - and from where in our state - is also interesting. Summer is the big “selling” season. Tourists, you’d guess. And you’d be right. Largest sales numbers are generally West of the Cascades with most along the Pacific coast from Portland to the California border.

Since Washington and California also now permit recreational pot, I’d guess - given watching license plates on our highways - Idaho, Utah and Montana are “higher” now than they used to be. Montana allows medical but the other two don’t. Idaho’s western border is solidly cheek-by-jowl up against pot-legal states. Don’t look for that to change any time soon.

So, how big a seller is recreational “MJ?” The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) figures about 13% of us have “used” in the past three years. But, that’s just the national average.

You just know California is #1. About 18% users. But, surprisingly - at least to me - Portland has about 13.32% and Seattle 14.31%. Got a little “Pacific High” goin’ there.

Some 23 states allow recreational and/or medical marijuana use. That number will increase bit-by-bit as residents demand it and states look for more income to pay the bills. Kinda like gambling. Most legislators would rather face a constituent angry about a “yes” vote on legalized pot than one on a tax increase. Any tax increase!

Our little coastal county of some 47,000 souls has about 20 pot shops. Seems excessive but no one really knows for sure. Their products, while accessible and plentiful, are not cheap. Transactions are “cash only.” No checks or credit cards. All sales are final. No returns.

For those wondering if I’ve had a “loaded” brownie or two, I have not. We retirees need to be careful with our “disposable” dollars. Besides, I’ve got a Jack Daniels budget to consider.

You laugh? Well, there’s one more legalized recreational pot factor here. Oregon booze sales are down. Down! Looks like some of that “disposable” income has jumped the fix fence.

Pot osmosis

stapiluslogo1

One of the less-heralded effects of this month’s election was to nearly surround Idaho with states different from it in a significant policy decision:

Almost all of Idaho’s border states now have legalized marijuana, in one way or another. And that’s going to put more pressure on Idaho on the subject.

Washington and one-state-over Colorado legalized in 2012. Oregon and one-state-over Alaska followed in 2014. This year, you can add California and Nevada to the list. (Arizona came close.) All of those allow “recreational” marijuana sales; Montana allows medicinal sales. Don’t be surprised if New Mexico follows suit in 2018.

In Wyoming, an initiative proposal this year didn’t make the ballot. But polling (from the University of Wyoming’s Survey and Analysis Center) has shown growing support there toward legalization, for medicinal pot at least. (It showed support for medicinal legalization at 81% and rising, and recreational at 41% and rising.) Ballot efforts are likely to continue there, and as California and Oregon showed, past failures don’t preclude eventual success.

So how will Idaho, whose officials at least, have been rigorously opposed to anything resembling legalization, respond to all this?

On the near-term level, and at least officially, there’s no reason to think there’ll be any change soon.

Police probably will be keeping a closer watch on vehicles from out of state. The Twin Falls Times News reported that police tracking the Highway 93 stretch from Twin Falls to Jackpot, Nevada, will not be deploying any new specific monitoring force at the border, but they will be watchful for any erratic driving they see in the area. That may be the general approach in Idaho’s border areas.

But what about the effects of a outright ban in one state of what is legal in another?

Might there be some tendency on the part of out of staters to avoid Idaho – even those not carrying marijuana, but simply concerned about the potential hassle factor? (Even if the risk of that actually isn’t very high, a reputation for it could have a big effect.) Might it be a negative in case of people considering moving? Might it, over time, start to have an economic impact? A whole lot of travel around Idaho, after all, is generated from states which have now, in whole or part, legalized.

What subtle effects might there be about the idea of a resident of those states crossing the line into Idaho?

There may also be an osmosis effect as Idahoans see their next-door neighbors sprouting new businesses and tax revenue, and without serious negative effects. This hasn’t been the subject of a lot of news stories, since we’re talking here about the absence of something, but it has been informally noted among the residents. And there have been some reports from the front. A Forbes article in August, for example, said “Two consequences that pot prohibitionists attribute to marijuana legalization - more underage consumption and more traffic fatalities - so far do not seem to be materializing in Colorado, which has allowed medical use since 2001 and recreational use since the end of 2012.”

Official Idaho isn’t likely to take much cognizance of any of that any time soon. But Idahoans around the state likely will, and that will have an effect over time.

Democratic fatigue?

harris

There is evidence that Oregon voters are showing some fatigue over Democratic management of the State.

It appears M97 is going to be defeated. Perhaps handily.

A poll released October 17 conducted for OPB by DHM research shows 48% would vote no while, 43% would vote yes. with only 10% undecided. The cross tabs show that 38% are certain no votes and 30% are certain yes votes. This is consistent with the Survey USA poll released last week showing 44% opposed the measure while 28% supported it with 29% undecided.

The Governors race: The DHM poll showed Brown with a comfortable 46% to 33% lead, but the Survey USA poll showed a tight contest, with Brown leading just 46% to Pierce’s 42%. The DHM poll showed the same level of support for Governor Brown, though still under 50%. The Survey USA poll was conducted October 10-12 while the DHM poll was done October 6-13. That could mean that many undecideds are breaking towards Pierce. However, Brown can easily break the 50% mark by capturing only a few undecideds.

If the race continues to tighten, the wildcard here may be Independent Party candidate Cliff Thomson who is polling at about 4%. Thompson has an eclectic platform including support of a sales tax and reduction of real estate tax (to produce a reliable revenue stream) Support for the marijuana and hemp industry, and returning local control to various State functions. Of course, his voters may also be swayed by the name of the party, promising a break from the Democratic and Republican Party feuds.

With Oregon’s looming fiscal crisis, general voter unhappiness and the fact that Democrats have been in charge of Oregon’s State government for some time, could the 2016 results reflect some Democratic fatigue? There is some data to suggest that could be the case.

In the Secretary of State race, DHM poll shows that Republican Dennis Richardson with 34% and Democrat Brad Avakian with 29%. There are still a lot of undecided voters in that race and a lot of support for various third party and Independent Party candidates. It appears many Democrats and Democratic leaners simply don’t want to vote for Avakian. Avakian has been one of the more partisan candidates this election as well.
Both polls also show that the POTUS candidates are viewed more negatively than positively by Oregonians. Trump is viewed negatively by 66% and Clinton by 54%.
Finally, the DHM poll shows that 44% of Oregonians believe the State is headed in the wrong direction while only 40% believe it’s headed in the right direction.

Maybe the 8 year cycle will manifest itself down ballot

Historically, when a party has held the White House for 8 years, it has a down election cycle. But this is an unusual year in the POTUS race and while many voters were prepared to vote Republican for President this election, given our options, we are going to end up electing a Democrat again.

In State races, particularly in a State like Oregon where Democrats have controlled the State for years, voters may be showing their frustration with the status quo by with holding their votes from Democratic candidates. There is evidence of that in the number of voters opting for third party or alternate candidates not just in the Presidential election, but also in the races for Governor and Secretary of State. While there is no risk that the Governors race will be won by a third party candidate, The Republicans have a great shot at the Secretary of State race, and we should watch the State Houses of Representatives to see if in some of the swing seats the Democratic candidates don’t do as well as they historically have.

And, in races where an Independent Party candidate has a one on one race against either a Democrat or Republican, voter discontent at the status quo -regardless of party – may result in some surprises. In particular I’m watching these races that don’t appear to be on the radar of the main stream media:

House District 17: Incumbent Republican Sherry Sprenger against Sweet Home City Councilperson and Independent Party Jeffrey Goodwin.
House District 23. Independent Jim Thompson running against very conservative incumbent Republican Mike Nearman.
House District 35: Independent Party candidate Jessica Cousineau is running against Incumbent Democrat Margaret Doherty
State Treasurer: This is a three way race between Independent Chris Telfer, career politician Democrat Tobias Read and Republican Jeff Gudman.

With the overwhelming voter registration edge and munificence from the Public Employee Union treasure that the Democrats enjoy, it’s not likely that there will be too many upsets this election. But Trends are important. If the Democratic majority, or total vote, is chipped away this year when Oregon falls over the fiscal cliff in 2017, the Democratic brand will be battered in the next Legislative session. 2018 could be tough for many Democratic incumbents. That could open the door to some modern Republicans or well funded Independent candidates.

Coffee with an IPO candidate

harrislogo1

I had a nice one hour chat with Independent Party of Oregon candidate for Governor Cliff Thomason this week in Beaverton.

Before I met Cliff, I read his website to see what issues were important for his campaign.

Local Control: This is an issue that Cliff highlighted in our conversation as well. And it seems to be near the top of his list. He wants to return more control of schools to the school districts. And he proposes that a large percentage of lottery dollars generated in each county be returned to the counties as sort of block grants. Now, the lottery dollars are used for economic development programs as directed by the State office in Salem.
Green Jobs: However, the green jobs he’s referring to are more “green” as in chlorophyll rather than “green” as in Solyndra or BETC. He wants to promote the wine industry and industrial hemp. As well as agri-tainment, which would incorporate agricultural experiences and tourism.

A State Bank: A progressive populist idea that is gaining traction statewide. Did I mention that Cliff is an industrial hemp farmer? The marijuana industry needs to have secure, safe, lawful banking services. The idea of a State Bank has been around for a while, and offers some real benefits. With the legalization of Mariuana, the State Bank idea has additional potential uses that no other entity could provide.

Anti Corruption: Cliff’s anti corruption page on his website is called “Kitzhaber Crew” where he talks about the corruption of our system by the good old boys and girls of the Democratic Party.

My first impression of Cliff is that he’s friendly, open and astute. He’s a businessman from Grants Pass. I’ve met a lot of businesspersons from middle class suburban and small to mid sized towns. They are pillars of their communities, members of their Chambers of Commerce and they fill the volunteer positions on city boards and commissions. Regardless of their political ideology, they love their communities and care about their neighbors. They are also much smarter than many urban denizens and deep blue politicos who live east of the tunnel and west of I-205 believe. Maybe it’s the loafers, camelhair blazers and American flag pins on the lapel that confuses some PDXrs.

We talked for an hour and could have talked longer. He was most intense when he talked about the urban rural divide and the need for more local control. And how different Josephine County and Grants Pass are to Portland and the upper valley. He even talked about how different Grants Pass is from rural Josephine County.

He had just come back from a KBOO podcast recording, and was wondering how well he did. He was asked about his position on the minimum wage, which is an escalating minimum wage based on age. We debated that for a minute, I don’t think I convinced him of my position, and he didn’t convince me of his. But at least he has thought about the minimum wage and the need to increase it for working families, while also considering the effect on non metropolitan employers.

I could tell many of his economic ideas were conservative and asked him what differentiated his candidacy from a GOP candidate. He admitted that it was harder to find many economic policy differences, however he said that social issues are not on his agenda or To Do list. He wanted to find common ground, not wedge issues that divide people.

Cliff comes from the “Rindependent” part of the IPO. That is, those slightly to moderately right of center populists who are economically conservative and socially agnostic or even socially libertarian. (As opposed to the “LIndependent” wing of the IPO, progressive populists who prefer Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton. Or to “MIndependent” IPO members who are policy moderate populists who seek to reform the democratic process itself as the way to improve substantive policy.)

Cliff will appeal to a large number of IPO voters from rural and small town areas, especially in southern and eastern Oregon. But his support for a State bank should also draw support from progressive independents as well as the powerful marijuana industry. His anti corruption message will win support from all IPO members. Heck, all Oregonians. But, I’d suggest he refocus it onto systemic corruption that both the Democratic and Republican Parties and their donor bases benefit from. (But that’s the MIndependent in me speaking there)

He should rethink his position on the minimum wage. A better option would be to simply allow local governments to increase their minimum wage to up to $15/hour. And/or an increase in the Oregon earned income tax credit which would focus wage increases on working families living below the poverty level.

He needs to address more of the concerns of urban voters. I get that a lot of rural voters rightly believe that the State Government ignores issues important to them. The way to highlight that is by making sure you talk about urban and rural issues. Show us how it’s done. The cost of housing and homelessness – issues that effect mostly urban areas – are issues that our governor has to address. He needs to remember that he still needs the votes of LIndependents in the IPO primary and moderates and urban voters in the general election.

How will Cliff fare?

With the Democrats offering Kate Brown, and the GOP so far offering just Dr. Bud Pierce, the IPO should be pleased that Cliff Thomason is running for its nomination for Oregon Governor. He certainly represents a large number of IPO members philosophically and has some interesting ideas that Oregonians from all over the political spectrum could support. Particularly his backing for a State Bank and more green jobs.

Reading: WA’s initiatives

From a notice by David Ammons of the Washington Secretary of State's office:

FYI: As WA lawmakers prepare to open their session on Monday, the people’s process of writing laws by initiative got its start Friday.

By mid-afternoon, 24 proposals with the Secretary of State’s Elections Division, including 13 from initiative activist Tim Eyman. His measures deal with making it tougher to raise taxes in Olympia, bringing back $30 car tabs, express lane tolls, and other issues.

Kurt Ludden of Seattle filed seven initiatives, dealing with medical marijuana, and the initiative process. Other sponsors submitted measures dealing with a single-payer health insurance system for Washington, grandparents’ visitation rights, and faculty carrying handguns.

The process of filing is easy — pay a $5 filing fee and submit the proposed wording. History shows, however, that usually only a few actually make the ballot. It takes 246,372 valid signatures of registered Washington voters — and the Elections Division recommends bringing in at least 325k to cover duplicate and invalid signatures. The deadline this year is July 8.

Initiatives are sent to the state code reviser for review as to form, and then on to the attorney general for a ballot title. Ballot titles can be challenges by sponsors or foes in court. After all that, it is up to sponsors whether to actually print up 20,000 or more actual petition sheets for signature collection. Many sponsors do not take that final step, and many do not gather enough signatures to qualify.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Kim Wyman has provisionally certified two initiatives to the Legislature as the Elections Division begins the signature-verification process. They are I-732, dealing with carbon taxes, and I-735, petitioning for a constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision on campaign fundraising.

First take/’bye ’15

As we tick away the hours left in 2015, maybe a reflection or two on this year when some new things happened.

Nationally, it was a time for insurgents to take center stage in politics. It was most obvious on the Republican side, where the backers of Donald Trump and Ben Carson and to a point Ted Cruz were backing people at war with the establishment. People like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio and even Rand Paul (running as, maybe, a kinder, gentler libertarian?), who at year's beginning seemed to be lapping the field, were being ground down near the end. Well, maybe not Rubio, if the other establishment guys all quit the race first. But the race, for most of 2015 and now as 2016 begins, is with Trump types. A month from now, when the actual voting begins, that may change, but for now that's the status.

Less dramatically there's some of this on the Democratic side too. the tone and feel and substance of the Bernie Sanders campaign is a lot different from Trump's, but it has the same sense of insurgency and lack of identification with the establishment. Sanders for now seems to be hitting his head against a too-low ceiling, and Hillary Clinton has the odds, but Sanders' campaign still generates the excitement.

Oregon was most notable this year for two big news stories: A new governor (Kate Brown) and legal pot. Both were bigger stories before than after the fact. The governor change happened after a stunning cascade of very personal scandal on the part of John Kitzhaber, who should have known better, didn't, and wound up having to resign. Brown has not been so major a newsmaker in the nearly year she's been in office, which is just as well, but she has gotten (with one major recent exception relating to public records) good marks, and is well positioned for election next year. In the case of marijuana, the big headlines were mostly in the runup to legalization. Without arguing that there's been a pot utopia since, it's been remarkable how few headlines it has generated in the months since legalization, how few serious problems have arisen or been noted. What's the downside to the decision? See if, in another year, we find any then.

Idaho was a more subtle case, but there too a new office holder made for something of a sea change. Under the former superintendent of public instruction, Idaho public schools were an ideological battleground, with lots of ugly messes over money, contracts and - a year ago at this time - a serious problem concerning broadband in the schools. The new superintendent, Sheri Ybarra, who came in with no serious administrative or political experience and might have been expected to make a bad situation worse, instead listened to the people on the ground, got the broadband problem resolved (through local solutions) and turned the battleground into productive turf again. That may have been the most remarkable change of the year in Idaho, the less noted maybe because it involved a reduction rather than an increase of political battling. But note also the arrival of Idaho's new wilderness area, the climax of a long-running battle, the sort of political achievement that many people have come to expect is no longer possible. Representative Mike Simpson showed that it is. - rs

First take/swat

Nauseating.

Take a look at the Washington Post article - this is just the latest of many this year - on how a local SWAT team terrorized a family, on "suspicion" that a marijuana grow might be happening there. Never mind that this was a well-established middle class family with children, both of whose adults were retired CIA employees. And that the sole reason for suspicion, all they had, was that the mother likes to the drink tea, and the father took one of the kids on a trip to a gardening store.

This is the kind of stuff that people worried about government really ought to be worried about, because it's not fantasy - it really does happen all over the country. We have funded and supplied SWAT corps that, most of the time, have too little to do. So they find something to do: Terrorizing us.

Over at Facebook, I made the point that this is another example of why marijuana ought to be legalized, just because the "war" on it has become far more dangerous to all of us than the substance ever was to anyone. And the legal morass around criminalizing pot is the biggest single reason it should be legalized nationally. But these SWAT teams are another issue beyond that. They were created for a reason, and occasions happen - like the mass shootings, which themselves are getting too frequent - when it's a good thing we have them available. But simply having them around, with pressure on (as it always will be) for regular demonstrated reports about how busy they are, means that these kinds of nightmares will go on and on, on whatever pretext. This militarization has to be reversed and scaled back.

Read this piece in the Post, put yourself in the place of this family, and try to come up with an argument for how this could be right . . . - rs

First take/Dear

It's unwise to jump to conclusions about why someone did something - as, in this case, the loner Robert Dear taking hostage and shooting up a Planned Parenthood location at Colorado Springs - but as details emerge, substantial conclusions become more reasonable. Little has been released by law enforcement in the case so far, and little has emerged directly from Dear about his motivations, other than a passing phrase about "no more baby parts."

But today the New York Times has released its examination into his background, talking with ex-wives and others who have known him over the years, tracing his path around the country. Some clear impressions start to emerge.

The Times writes, "He was a man of religious conviction who sinned openly, a man who craved both extreme solitude and near-constant female company, a man who successfully wooed women but, some of them say, also abused them. He frequented marijuana websites, then argued with other posters, often through heated religious screeds. “Turn to JESUS or burn in hell,” he wrote on one site on Oct. 7, 2005."

And, referring to an incident from several years ago, "A number of people who knew Mr. Dear said he was a staunch abortion opponent. Ms. Micheau, 60, said in a brief interview Tuesday that late in her marriage to Mr. Dear, he told her that he had put glue in the locks of a Planned Parenthood location in Charleston."

There were, in other words, a number of indicators that screws were loose - maybe just a couple of turns looser than is much more widespread. - rs

First take/pot stores

Tomorrow marijuana sales go legal in Oregon, and the location will be medical dispensary businesses licensed to sell to recreationalists as well. As it goes commercial, commercial labeling takes hold too. Here (from the official state list) are some favorite pot seller business names from around the state:

High Winds Cannabis, Hood River
bud4u, Mapleton and Florence
Pipe Dreams, Lincoln City
Meg's Marijuana, Springfield
Peace Love & Cannabis, Salem
Plane Jane's LLC, Portland
Cannabliss And Co., Eugene and Portland
The Grass Shack, Portland
Stoney Brothers LLC, Portland
Happy Leaf, Portland
Coastal Cannabinoids, Waldport

Too bad George Carlin isn't around to see this.

The 203 recreational stores (another 80 are medical only) range from the California to Washington borders, and some are scattered on the coast. As for what's easternmost, that would be one of the stores in Bend or Madras. - rs

First take

Yes, the survey was ordered by the group Marijuana Majority, but that doesn't mean it was badly done (the polling firm is reputable and has a good track record). And the results are striking; if the numbers seem, ahem, a little high, that doesn't mean they don't point in the correct direction. The issue was whether the federal government should leave states alone in developing their own policies toward weed, and the question was asked in two key states, Iowa and New Hampshire. (Which will be of interest since presidential candidates in those places are likely to be asked about this - and will need to bear in mind local attitudes.) Among Democrats, 80 percent in Iowa and 77 percent in New Hampshire favored federal laissez-fair. That may be no big surprise. Among respondents overall, 70 percent in Iowa, 73 percent in New Hampshire. But get this: Among Republicans, states rights on pot got 64% favorable in Iowa and 67% in New Hampshire. If that's anywhere near right, a bunch of Republican presidential candidates are about to have a serious choking moment. Maybe the Democratic candidates too. - rs (photo/sroalf)