GAZETTE TIMES — Seth Crawford sits down in the chair of his office in Ballard Hall on the Oregon State University campus. The shoes come off almost immediately — a Crawford trademark. Construction noise from the adjacent work on the Johnson Hall engineering building rattles through the window on a warm summer afternoon.
Crawford has three monitors on his desk, but he doesn’t seem to need them. All of the data seems to be in his head. He spits out facts and he spits them out fast.
His subject: marijuana, whose recreational use became legal July 1 in Oregon.
Crawford, 34, a sociology instructor at OSU, has become a go-to guy on pot, particularly the economics of pot and particularly pot in Oregon. Crawford has testified before the Legislature, spoken before the Corvallis City Club on the issue, and is quite happy to share his conclusions. You just have to be able to write fast.
“Long term, Oregon will be the largest (marijuana) producer in the nation,” Crawford said. “No doubt about it. Big companies know that. They are buying land and setting up greenhouses. They might not participate immediately. It’s going to be a national market.
“The biggest challenge for the (Oregon Liquor Control Commission) and the Legislature is traveling from an informal to a formal market. The OLCC has a lot to overcome. And by the time they get it figured out it will be legalized nationally and it won’t even matter.”
And what will be the economic impact five years out?
“Cities and counties won’t make very much money,” Crawford said. “The state likely will get a moderate revenue stream. If the OLCC sets up a functioning marketplace you’ll see a change from the informal exchange system. It will just be easier” to go to a store rather than drive into the woods to find your grower.
Out in the woods was where Crawford got started thinking about marijuana. He grew up in a log cabin in Galice, a Josephine County town about 20 miles northwest of Grants Pass along the Rogue River. His family has mining and logging interests in the region.
“We were surrounded by marijuana farms. It definitely played a role in my development,” Crawford said. “Southern Oregon has a depressed economy. When timber dried up, people moved into different occupations that paid less and made up the difference with sales of marijuana. It’s part of the social fabric in Southern Oregon. It’s not a big deal if you use it or not.”
Crawford dug deeper into the Southern Oregon marijuana economy when he was working on his doctoral dissertation.
“I came up with the question of why Southern Oregon was such a hotbed for marijuana production and (medical marijuana) card holders,” he said of his research.
He found that the average Southern Oregon marijuana grower grosses $7,500 per year and that Oregon has “the highest quality and the lowest price. We don’t know where recreational marijuana will be grown. I’m guessing a 50-50 split between indoor and outdoor. Indoors will be in warehouses in Portland, Salem and Eugene. But people who think the black market is going to go away … that’s a pipe dream.”
Crawford also thinks the social impact of legalization in Oregon will be relatively small. His research shows that 14 percent of Oregonians use pot.
“The numbers will go up a tiny bit. That has been the Colorado experience (Colorado legalized in 2014). Marijuana always has been a niche drug. Some have affinity for it and some don’t. That’s not going to change with legalization. Legalization will change some people’s perceptions and there will be some experimentation but 80 percent of marijuana is consumed by 20 percent of users.”
"That's a good question," Crawford said when asked about the impact of legalization efforts on pre-employment drug testing.
"For companies that have federal links that won't change," said Crawford, because the drug still is illegal under federal law. "For smaller companies it doesn't make a lot of sense. There isn't a test for (marijuana) intoxication and it's going to be difficult to develop one."
"Some of the most prolific marijuana users work at Silicon Valley companies such as Google," Crawford said.
What's a prolific user?
"Two to three times a week. Every day or almost every day is a super user."
Crawford is particularly intrigued by the side issue of hemp production. Hemp, a variety of the cannabis plant that is high in cannibinoids and lower in THC (the component that gets you stoned), has numerous industrial and medical applications.
“Cannabis is the most utilitarian plant we’ve found,” Crawford said. “We’re still finding things out about it.”
Crawford, who has an industrial hemp license, cites research that shows cannabinoids can get rid of arthritis, can help people sleep and have uses in nutritional supplements.
“It’s Oregon’s most valuable agricultural commodity. And it’s only going to expand.”