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Oregon Marijuana Sales Spike During Pandemic, But Officials Expect Market To ‘Mellow’

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Amid one of the sharpest economic downturns in state history, Oregon marijuana sales continue to roll along at a healthier-than-normal pace. State budget officials say that shelter-in-place policies and economic stimulus programs have kept marijuana sales “quite strong” during the pandemic so far.

Since March 1, the sales of adult-use marijuana products are up 60 percent compared to a year ago, the state Office of Economic Analysis said in its latest quarterly budget forecast published last week.

“These increases are not only related to the stockpiling consumers did after the sheltering in place policies were enacted,” the report says, “but have continued through April and early May.”

Oregon marijuana sales during COVID-19

In April alone, consumers bought $89 million worth of legal cannabis products—a record amount—thanks in part to what officials described as a “4/20 bump.” While the boost in sales figures are due in part to rising prices, state budget analysts said that “underlying demand is up as well.”

“The increase in sales for other marijuana products, like concentrates, edibles and the like, are due to significant gains in consumer demand as prices are flat or down,” analysts reasoned.

The June 2020 budget forecast estimates that the current increase in marijuana sales will yield an extra $9 million in state tax revenue during the 2019-2021 budget period. It’s a rare bright spot in the overall budget report, which state analysts described as “the largest downward revision to the quarterly forecast that our office has ever had to make.”

Oregon marijuana demand

But even the marijuana sector’s boost may be time limited.

“Expectations are that some of these increases are due to temporary factors like the one-time household recovery rebates, expanded unemployment insurance benefits, and the shelter in place style policies,” the report says. “As the impact of these programs fade in the months ahead, and bars and restaurants reopen to a larger degree, marijuana sales are expected to mellow.”

Demand for marijuana is also expected to fall in coming years due to a lower overall economic outlook, which is projected to reduce Oregon’s population and cut average incomes. “A relatively smaller population indicates fewer potential customers,” the report notes, “and lower total personal income than previously assumed indicates less consumer demand.”

Oregon population forecast

The projected slowdown in sales isn’t expected to make an impact until the next budget period, beginning in 2021. At that point, the forecast says, sales will begin trending down by 5 percent relative to the current period “due to the lower economic outlook” associated with COVID-19.

The pandemic has also changed how Oregonians are making marijuana purchases, the report found, though perhaps not as much as one might expect. The share of sales completed by delivery services more than doubled in recent months, but it remained relatively small, making up just 1.4 percent of total sales. As the Office of Economic Analysis observed, “Consumers still prefer to shop in store.”

Oregon is one of a handful of states looking to legal cannabis sales to help buoy tax revenues. A report published last month by cannabis regulators in Michigan, where legal sales to adults began this past December, forecasts annual marijuana sales in that state to top $3 billion as the market matures. That would mean another 13,500 jobs and roughly $500 million per year in taxes to state coffers. Factoring in the effects on peripheral businesses, the state found, the “total economic impact is estimated to be $7.85 billion with a total impact on employment of 23,700.”

Although tax revenue from cannabis sales will help pad budgets in many legal states, the Oregon report doesn’t mince words: The pandemic’s hit to the state’s economy will be drastic. Oregon’s current recession is “the deepest on record with data going back to 1939,” according to state analysts, and it hit with virtually no warning. “The path looks more like what happens to economic activity during a labor strike or in the aftermath of a natural disaster.”

Oregon incomes over time

For its part, Oregon’s Office of Economic Analysis predicts a relatively swift recovery. “While this recession is extremely severe, it is expected to be shorter in duration than the Great Recession,” analysts wrote. “The economy should return to health by mid-decade.”

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Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

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Federal Grants For Hemp Farmers Should Be Expanded, State Agriculture Departments Demand At Annual Meeting

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The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) is urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to give hemp two different classifications depending on its intended use in order to expand access to federal grant programs.

Members of NASDA agreed last week to amend its organizational policy on USDA’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. They are now calling for two distinct categories for hemp, requesting that the federal agency allow businesses to designate the crop as either a specialty crop or agronomic commodity.

That’s consistent with a request that was included in a spending bill report from the Senate Appropriations Committee that was approved last month.

While the requested change may seem largely technical, it would make it so hemp farmers could have greater access to grants that stakeholders say would provide them with valuable resources as the industry continues to evolve. It’s not clear if USDA will follow through, but NASDA is an influential body that represents agriculture departments in all 50 states and four U.S. territories.

The new policy that the organization adopted during its annual meeting states that “NASDA supports the dual designation for hemp as a specialty crop based on the manner and purpose for which it is grown,” and it also “supports expanding the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program funding eligibility to hemp crops with horticultural uses.”

Jonathan Miller, general counsel for the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, told Marijuana Moment that the group is “really excited that NASDA is so working so closely with our industry to help identify solutions to support hemp farmers, and this is a technical issue, but it could open the door for funding and other support that hemp farmers so desperately need right now.”

What NASDA seems to be doing with this latest action is aligning its policy with the Senate appropriations report for fiscal year 2022, Herrick Fox, co-chair of the government relations committee at the National Industrial Hemp Council (NIHC) who previously spent 15 years working in USDA, told Marijuana Moment.

He said that the “only reason” hemp didn’t receive the dual designation from USDA in the first place is because “I think all the federal agencies are still trying to get used to the idea of hemp as a legal agricultural product—and in the first years following legalization, there was some unspoken reticence.”

NASDA CEO Barb Glenn said in a press release that “allowing hemp to be designated as both a specialty crop and a traditional commodity recognizes the crop’s up-and-coming nature and assures new farmers will be supported in their decisions to grow the crop for either food, fiber or horticultural use.”

“As the regulators and stewards of healthy agricultural industries in their states, NASDA members have been the leading voice for supporting the hemp industry since hemp’s inclusion in the 2014 Farm Bill,” she said. “This action would be another important step in helping hemp achieve long-term sustainability.”

USDA has made clear its intent to support the burgeoning industry.

For example, the agency recently announced that it is teaming up with university researchers to figure out the best ways to keep weeds (not the marijuana kind) out of hemp.

USDA also announced last month that it is moving forward with a large-scale survey to gain insight into the hemp market.

After requesting permission from the White House earlier this year to conduct the survey of about 20,000 hemp farmers, the agency’s National Agricultural Statistics Service recently said that the forms are being finalized to be filled out via mail or online.

USDA is asking questions about plans for outdoor hemp production, acreage for operations, primary and secondary uses for the crop and what kinds of prices producers are able to bring in. The questionnaire lists preparations such as smokeable hemp, extracts like CBD, grain for human consumption, fiber and seeds as areas the department is interested in learning about.

Last year, USDA announced plans to distribute a separate national survey to gain insights from thousands of hemp businesses that could inform its approach to regulating the industry.

That survey is being completed in partnership with National Association of State Departments of Agriculture and the University of Kentucky. The department said it wanted to learn about “current production costs, production practices, and marketing practices” for hemp.

There’s still much to learn about the burgeoning market, even as USDA continues to approve state regulatory plans for the crop. Most recently, the agency approved a hemp plan submitted by Colorado, where officials have consistently insisted that the state intends to be a leader in the space.

While USDA’s final rule for hemp took effect on March 22, the agency is evidently still interested in gathering information to further inform its regulatory approach going forward. Industry stakeholders say the release of the final rule is a positive step forward that will provide businesses with needed guidance, but they’ve also pointed to a number of policies that they hope to revise as the market matures such as USDA’s hemp testing requirements.

The federal Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy expressed a similar sentiment in a blog post in February, writing that it is “pleased with some of the changes that [USDA] has made to the rule, as they offer more certainty and are less burdensome to small farmers,” but “some concerns remained unaddressed in the final rule.”

USDA announced in April that it is teaming up with a chemical manufacturing company on a two-year project that could significantly expand the hemp-based cosmetics market.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced last month that it is sponsoring a project to develop hemp fiber insulation that’s designed to be better for the environment and public health than conventional preparations are.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

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Amazon Reaffirms Support For Marijuana Legalization And Says Former Workers Punished Over Cannabis Are Eligible For Employment

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Amazon is reaffirming its support for federal marijuana legalization, and it disclosed on Tuesday that its earlier decision to end drug testing for cannabis will also be retroactive, meaning former workers and applicants who were punished for testing positive for THC will have their employment eligibility restored.

The company’s move to end marijuana drug testing for many positions in June was widely celebrated by reform advocates and industry stakeholders. But at the time, Amazon only talked about ending the policy going forward.

In a new blog post, Beth Galetti, Amazon’s senior vice president of human resources, clarified that it has also “reinstated the employment eligibility for former employees and applicants who were previously terminated or deferred during random or pre-employment marijuana screenings.”

The reason for the move away from marijuana testing is multifaceted, Amazon said. The growing state-level legalization movement has made it “difficult to implement an equitable, consistent, and national pre-employment marijuana testing program,” data shows that drug testing “disproportionately impacts people of color and acts as a barrier to employment” and ending the requirement will widen the company’s applicant pool.

That said, unlike in its June announcement, Amazon’s new update places an emphasis on ending “pre-employment” drug testing for cannabis. It used broader language before, announcing that it will “no longer include marijuana in our comprehensive drug screening program.”

Amazon also reiterated that it would like to see Congress pass legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition. It cited the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act and the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) as examples of bills that it supports.

For the latter legislation—which is being sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)—Amazon participated in a public comment period and submitted feedback that it shared with lawmakers in the new blog post.

“We believe the time has come for reform of the nation’s cannabis policy and we are committed to helping lead the effort,” the company said in a letter to the senators. “As your bill would achieve similar objectives, we are pleased to endorse the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act as currently drafted.”

Amazon said it specifically supports key provisions to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, expunge prior cannabis convictions and use some marijuana tax revenue for community reinvestment.

Curiously, the letter also says “we have refrained from commenting on areas where we do not have a particular view, including regulation, permitting, taxation, and interstate commerce.”

It’s that last point that raises some eyebrows, as it stands to reason that any policy on interstate cannabis commerce would be of interest to a business that delivers products across the U.S. and presumably has the infrastructure to expand its delivery services into the marijuana industry when prohibition ends.

“We are proud to largely end pre-employment testing of marijuana as a condition of employment. And we are enthused by the notable momentum in the country toward recognizing that today’s status quo is unfair and untenable,” Amazon concluded. “We are eager to work with you to secure passage of this legislation.”

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Arizona Marijuana Tax Revenue Exceeds $20 Million In August, State Reports

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Arizona collected more than $20 million in medical and adult-use marijuana tax revenue in August, data released by the state this week shows.

Medical cannabis taxes were slightly higher at $6,388,816 last month, compared to $4,542,166 collected from the recreational market, according to the Department of Revenue. The state also took in an additional $9,515,016 from the marijuana excise tax.

However, these figures are preliminary and may change, as some businesses could need additional time to send in data.

July’s cannabis tax revenue was slightly higher compared to August, with the state taking in about $400,000 more in the prior month.

While medical cannabis taxes are still outpacing those from the adult-use market, that gap has been generally been narrowing in the months since recreational sales first launched in January. That’s a trend that’s been observed across numerous states after adult-use marijuana is legalized.

However, Arizona’s medical marijuana market is well-established, and some industry experts don’t necessarily expect recreational sales to overtake the medical program for some time.

Overall cannabis tax revenue from January through August totaled $115,701,426, according to the data the Department of Revenue is reporting so far.

Other states are also seeing a windfall in marijuana tax dollars as more markets mature and sales continue to increase.

For example, Maine recreational marijuana sales broke another record in August, exceeding $10 million for the first time since the adult-use market launched in October 2020.

Adult-use cannabis sales in Illinois exceeded $120 million in August, state officials recently reported. It’s the second highest sales record since the state’s recreational market launched last year and the sixth month in a row that sales surpassed $100 million.

Massachusetts marijuana sales have topped $2 billion since the state’s adult-use market launched in late 2018, the Cannabis Control Commission reported last week.

California collected about $817 million in adult-use marijuana tax revenue during the 2020-2021 fiscal year, state officials estimated last month. That’s 55 percent more cannabis earnings for state coffers than was generated in the prior fiscal year.

A recent scientific analysis of sales data in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington State found that marijuana purchases “have increased more during the COVID-19 pandemic than in the previous two years.”

In July alone, at least three states saw record-breaking sales for recreational cannabis. The same goes for Missouri’s medical marijuana program.

Michigan marijuana sales broke another record in July with more than $171 million in cannabis transactions, according to data from the state’s regulatory body. There were $128 million in adult-use sales and $43 million in medical cannabis purchases.

Throughout the pandemic, many states allowed cannabis retailers to remain open—with governors and regulators in several markets declaring marijuana businesses to be essential services—and some jurisdictions issued emergency rules allowing curbside pickup, delivery services or other more relaxed policies in order to facilitate social distancing.

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