The Columbian / Associated Press

Stats may finally back claim marijuana is Oregon’s top crop

SALEM, Ore. — Sales and tax figures collected by state agencies may finally solve one of Oregon’s long-running farm crop questions: whether marijuana is indeed the state’s most valuable crop, as cannabis advocates have always maintained.

Tight controls and reporting requirements by the Oregon Department of Revenue and Oregon Liquor Control Commission should result in accurate information about pot, said Bruce Pokarney, spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture. The department compiles an annual list of the state’s most valuable crops.

The temporary sale of recreational marijuana by medical marijuana dispensaries became legal in Oregon last October. Dispensaries charge a 25 percent tax on sales. When licensed recreational retailers begin operating in January the state tax will be 17 percent.

As of May 30, the state had collected $14.9 million in marijuana sales taxes.

The information, however, poses another head-scratcher. Most agricultural statistics published by the ag department come from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, or NASS. Although it’s now legal in several states, the feds still classify marijuana as an illegal drug. Dave Losh, Oregon state statistician for NASS, said the agency won’t include marijuana in its annual crop statistics due to federal policy.

For the same reason, people can’t use water from federal projects to irrigate marijuana, he said, and such things as Natural Resources Conservation Service programs can’t be applied to pot crops.

Pokarney, of ODA, joked the department might have to put an asterisk beside the pot crop value in its annual report. “We will have sales numbers, but I don’t know how we would report it,” he said.

Oregon crop statistics from 2014 list cattle and calves as the state’s top agricultural product, at $922 million value. Greenhouse and nursery plants was second at $829 million, and hay was third, at $703 million.

Seth Crawford, an Oregon State University sociology professor who teaches a pot policy class, estimated in 2015 that Oregon’s marijuana crop had an annual value approaching $1 billion.

Meanwhile, the OLCC continues to process license applications as entrepreneurs seek opportunities in the state’s recreational cannabis market.

As of June 21, there were 723 applications to grow pot in Oregon. Of those, 122 were in Jackson County and 91 were in neighboring Josephine County. Southern Oregon has long been the state’s cannabis production hotbed, legal or illegal. The tri-county Portland area, including Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties, accounted for 250 of the license applications.

Of processing facilities, 25 of the 82 license applications were from Multnomah County, as were 69 of 193 retail outlet applications.

The state also received applications from seven testing labs, 57 wholesalers and one research facility.

Some licenses have been approved, many others are in draft form or are being reviewed for land-use compliance by local governments.