The Columbian / Associated Press

Washington, Oregon tells feds: Hands off pot

SALEM, Ore. — The states that have legalized recreational marijuana — a multibillion-dollar business — don’t want to hear the federal government talk about a crackdown. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown says she wants Oregonians left alone to “grow these jobs.”

In Oregon alone, that’s roughly 12,500 jobs, said economist Beau Whitney of Portland, adding that he is making a conservative estimate. Oregon’s attorney general said she would be duty-bound to fight to protect the state’s marijuana industry.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said his department is reviewing a Justice Department memo that gives states flexibility in passing marijuana laws and noted “it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.” White House spokesman Sean Spicer predicted stepped-up enforcement.

Underscoring how the marijuana industry is pushing job growth in Oregon, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which regulates and licenses the state’s recreational marijuana industry, said it has over 12,640 applications for marijuana worker permits. It has also received 2,174 marijuana license applications, with over half coming from would-be producers and the rest mostly from those seeking to set up as retailers, processors, wholesalers and laboratories. It had activated 943 licenses by Tuesday.

Marijuana shops are prevalent in many Oregon cities. In the countryside, marijuana greenhouses are not uncommon.

“We now have a nascent, somewhat successful industry,” Brown said in an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press and a freelance journalist. “These are good-paying jobs. It’s a pretty diverse business community.”

In January alone, recreational marijuana sales in Oregon were more than $20 million, with medical marijuana generating about $2.8 million more, the OLCC said.

In Oregon, Washington state and Colorado, marijuana tax revenues totaled at least $335 million in either the last calendar year or the last fiscal year.

Whitney, who has been involved in several marijuana businesses and has advised state government, estimates that workers in the marijuana industry in Oregon earn a total of $315 million per year. That’s based on workers earning an average of $12 per hour. He noted that the wage scales vary widely, with harvesters earning less than processors and chemists. Their wages are pumped back into the local economies.

If the Trump administration moves against legalized recreational marijuana, it would be going against its own objectives, Oregon’s governor said.

She noted that citizens in several states have voted to make pot legal. Oregon legalized recreational marijuana in a 2014 ballot measure.

“This administration very clearly wants to grow the economy and create jobs, and the other piece that they want is to have the states be the laboratories of democracy,” Brown said. “There is no better type of laboratory than the initiative process, and voters in Oregon and Washington and California and Alaska and Nevada, and there’s a few other states, have voted to legalize marijuana. On the West Coast alone, that’s 49 million people.”

Her message to Washington: “Let our people grow these jobs.”