Oregon’s small towns revel in weed tax windfall

Special Reports

GATES, Ore. (KOIN) — There are more than 600 licensed marijuana retailers across Oregon and you’ll find many of them scattered along rural highways and nestled into small towns.

Thorin Thacker, the one-time mayor of Mill City now owns Canyon Cannabis in Gates. (KOIN) 

While you may wonder who’s shopping there, these small communities are reaping the rewards of marijuana taxes. Communities like Gates, in Marion County, which has tripled its tax income with just one pot shop.

Thorin Thacker, the one-time mayor of Mill City down the road now owns Canyon Cannabis in Gates.

Decked out with custom frisbees and soundtracked by decades-old records, the shop has become a staple of the town. Part because of the personality, part because of the product but also because it’s a cash cow.

Canyon Cannabis in Gates, Oregon, has been a major cash cow for the small town in Marion County. (KOIN) 

“I’ve built my store kind of around what I would have wished to have seen in back in the 70s, early 80s,” Thacker said. 

Jerry Marr, who served as mayor of Gates as recreational marijuana was rolled out and Canyon Cannabis rolled in, was an early supporter. He said the town’s entire population pays $7,000 in property tax on a yearly basis — but Canyon Cannabis, giving just 3% of its revenue, pays double that. 

Jerry Marr, who severed as mayor of Gates as recreational marijuana was rolled out and Canyon Cannabis rolled in, was an early supporter. (KOIN) 

“It’s been a real revenue thing for us,” Marr said. 

That $14,000 is enough to cover four month’s worth of the town’s yearly operating budget.

The state collected more than $82 million from marijuana sales in the last fiscal year. In areas with small populations, a little goes a long way.

“We’re happy as can be to pay these taxes,” Thacker said.

ECONorthwest senior economist Bob Whelan said Gates is one of many towns on the receiving end of the weed tax windfall.

“Other towns seeing this are getting excited,” Whelan said.

Huntington, in eastern Oregon off I-84 near the Idaho border, has two marijuana shops funneling in close to $800,000, several times larger than their original $200,000 budget. 

ECONorthwest senior economist Bob Whelan in February 2019. (KOIN) 

Of course, many of these stores got in early and are benefiting from being the only shops in their area. Success breeds competition and diluted earnings. That’s why Whelan says the towns getting these funds should plan on saving the money for now. 

“Like a lot of vices that become legal — like casino gambling — you never know how long the party’s going to last,” Whelan said.

Towns surrounding Gates are already asking about Canyon Cannabis. They want some of that marijuana money for themselves.

Thacker is just happy to be in demand and embraced by the town that his shop has embraced from the start.

“It’s great to see such positive things coming out of such a harmless plant,” Thacker said. 

The City of Gates in Marion County has fewer than 500 residents. (KOIN) 

Gates plans to use part of its marijuana money to fund much-needed improvements in the water system but it’s a small town, so they’ll also be using some of the cash to fix up the town tractor. 

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