“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.