- Graphic by Wyatt Gaines.
Marijuana tax receipts statewide have been steadily declining since November—but still, recent reports from the Oregon Department of Revenue indicate the state has already brought in $65.4 million in tax dollars from legal marijuana. January 2017 alone brought $5.3 million into state coffers, with retailers selling an estimated $7 million worth of marijuana each week across the state.
Marijuana industry professionals attribute the recent decline in tax receipts to a number of things, including the Oregon Health Authority's additional testing regulations implemented in October. The new rules have left laboratories bottlenecked, with many product manufacturers reporting long delays in getting their products to market. Additionally, the recent drop from a 25 percent to a 17 percent tax rate, which went into effect in January, also plays a role in a decline in tax receipts.
But like many things in this infant industry, things are constantly changing. In November, voters passed a three percent additional sales tax for recreational marijuana in the City of Bend, which will soon bring additional revenues into the city budget.
Currently there are 17 recreational marijuana retailers listed by the Oregon Liquor Control Commision (OLCC) in the city. Anne Aurand, communications director for the City of Bend says: "We have estimated that we expect to receive about $500K a year from this revenue source," adding that they "anticipate receiving the revenues by the end of May." The additional cash will go directly into the general fund, where the City Council will decide how to spend it. Aurand noted "The Council indicated that they would be interested in using that money for police and streets maintenance."
Meanwhile, there's the continuing possibility of conflict with the federal government, which still deems recreational marijuana illegal. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer affirmed the new administration's stance on the issue during a press conference last week, announcing that although medical marijuana was deemed as safe, recreational was a different story. Spicer drew harrowing parallels of marijuana use to the opioid epidemic, stating, "There's two distinct issues here, medical marijuana and recreational marijuana...I think that when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country...the last thing that we should be doing is encouraging people." He added that it would be "something that the Department of Justice I think will be further looking into," and that "I do believe that you'll see greater enforcement of it." According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) there have been no recorded deaths attributed to marijuana, while opioids were thought to be responsible for 33,000 deaths in 2015 alone.
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden (D) released an official statement following the White House commentary. "The federal government needs to respect the decisions of Oregon voters...(including) the rights of one in five Americans who live in a state where marijuana is legal." He added, "Wasting taxpayer dollars and burdening our law-enforcement agencies to go after law-abiding recreational marijuana users distracts from going after criminals and threats to our safety."
During a visit to the Source Weekly last week, Wyden touched on the federal versus state divide, raising the issue of public safety. "We've been trying to play offense, myself, Senator Merkley" he said. "The question then becomes why should the voters of a state who have made a judgement about legal conduct be barred from using the machinery of the federal government to carry it out?... I mean, what are we going to do? Have people walking around with wheelbarrows full of cash? Waiting for bad guys to hold them up? ...Do you want that public safety problem?"