The results are in: Marijuana receipts in Pendleton — the only municipality in northeast Oregon to allow recreational and medical sales — are far beyond initial expectations.
In the current fiscal year, which started in July and still has six months to go, the city has already brought in $131,963 in tax money from marijuana. The Pendleton City Council had budgeted just $25,000 in marijuana revenue for the entire fiscal year. Remember, for instance, the gas tax the city floated (and was defeated by voters) in November 2015 that was expected to bring in about $550,000 per year. Now the city is getting half of that with a voluntary sin tax (approved by voters).
The council was right to start with a conservative estimate of marijuana tax income. When they had to first ballpark a number, there were no retailers open yet in the city and it was unknown how many — if any — entrepreneurs would take the plunge.
But three stores have since opened, and despite some concerns with how a couple are operating, it has been a relatively easy jump across the gorge of prohibition.
And for Pendleton, it has been a leap that came with serious monetary reward.
The city has no shortage of uses for the money. Although not the most useful about 360 days of the year, the city could do worse from a public relations perspective than buying a sparkling new snowplow (or better yet, a half-priced used one!) to help clear its streets each winter. The city public works department could certainly use another infusion for its roads — and using the money on something tangible may help persuade those who were not supportive of allowing a new, federally prohibited industry to operate in city limits. And public safety, the department that deals with the downsides of legal marijuana, could use a cut to cover the costs of dealing with the new businesses and their customers.
This all comes, however, against the backdrop of noise that marijuana may be once again in the crosshairs of the federal government. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a noted marijuana opponent, removed the barrier last week that kept Department of Justice prosecutors from pursuing marijuana cases in states that had made pot legal.
It's hard to parse the conflicting messages coming from the White House, but we don't think Sessions' actions will have much impact on policy. Marijuana has arrived to a number of states, it has worked better than expected, and it is helping raise money for cash-strapped governments.
We think that other municipalities in Eastern Oregon, especially smaller ones suffering from a lack of revenue and new industries, should reconsider their opposition to the drug. The upside is higher than many in the region thought it would be, and the downside is manageable. Assuredly, Pendleton is hoping other cities keep their bans and keep sending their customers in its direction.
Marijuana tax revenue is not a panacea, but it pays better than prohibition.