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Marijuana may be Oregon’s top crop after the latest stats were released

Sales and tax figures collected by state agencies may finally solve one of Oregon’s long-running farm crop questons, 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, as said by 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. A 25% tax on sales is charged by the dispensaries. When licensed recreational retailers begin operating in January, the tax will drop down to 17 percent.

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

This information, however, poses another problem. Most agricultural statistics published by the agricultural department come from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). Although marijuana is legal in several states, the federal government still classify marijuana as an illegal drug. Dave Losh, Oregon state statistical 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 Resource Conservation Service programs can’t be applied to pot crops.

Pokarney, of ODA, made a joke about the department saying they would need 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 $933 million value. Greenhouse and nursery plants took second place with $8529 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 marijuana in Oregon. Of those, 122 were in Jackson County and 91 were in neighboring Josephine County. 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, and 69 of 193 were retail applications.

The state also received applications from 7 testing labs, 57 wholesalers and 1 research facility.

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