Fred Grimm

Weed could bring heaps of new jobs, taxes and tourists to Florida

In this Sept. 16, 2015 file photo, marijuana for sale is kept in jars for customers to sample smells, at a recreational marijuana store, in Aurora, Colo.
In this Sept. 16, 2015 file photo, marijuana for sale is kept in jars for customers to sample smells, at a recreational marijuana store, in Aurora, Colo. AP

If only Rick Scott had come to California one day earlier and made a side trip to that job fair in San Francisco. The gov could have dispensed with his unseemly move-to-Florida business-poaching act and come back home knowing how his state could generate thousands of new, homegrown jobs.

With an emphasis on homegrown.

Some 2,500 wanna-be employees had crowded into a ballroom at the San Francisco Regency on April 30 hoping to snag work in the state’s hottest market.

Thirty-two companies, all of them cogs in “America’s fastest growing industry,” were accepting applications at the Join the GreenRush job fair. With a little encouragement from our job-centric governor, Florida could be staging its own version.

The businesses were looking to hire cultivators, delivery drivers, marketers, software writers, security officers, retail workers, specialty cooks and folks who fall into the category called “budtender,” a weedier kind of bartender. And, oh yeah, bud trimmers. They always need bud trimmers.

California expects to add scads of new jobs growing, preparing, delivering, marketing and selling marijuana. So could Florida, where medical marijuana will be on the Nov. 8 ballot. A similar constitutional initiative in 2014 was approved by 57.6 percent, out-polling all the state’s politicians, including Scott, on the ballot but falling just short of the 60 percent threshold required for passage.

A Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday found 80 percent of the Florida respondents now favor legalizing medical marijuana. Besides, in a presidential election year (unlike 2014) those notoriously lazy pot-smoking millennials are more apt to muddle their way to the polls.

Medical marijuana ought to pass. But the real job potential, along with heaps of new tax revenue, would come with outright legalization. Colorado, Washington and Oregon now allow retail sales of recreational marijuana and all three states are enjoying job and tax windfalls.

Colorado collected $135 million in marijuana taxes in 2015, on sales of $996 million. The state now takes in more money from pot sales than it collects in liquor taxes.

Washington State recorded $67.5 million in pot taxes in 2015, but expects to collect a billion dollars over the next four years.

Oregon reported that the state’s first month of marijuana tax collections in January doubled expectations, giving the state $3.48 million to spend on education, mental health services, law enforcement and drug rehab. (The 19 Oregon counties that opt out of marijuana sales receive none of that revenue — a formula that Florida ought to consider when we divvy gambling taxes, most of which come out of South Florida casinos.).

The Oregonian newspaper reported last month that the state’s fledgling marijuana industry had created 2,100 new jobs just in the retail sector of pot sales, with an annual payroll of $45 million.

But here’s a number that ought to catch the notice of Florida’s jobs-obsessed governor. The Colorado Department of Revenue reported that by the end of 2015, the state had issued 26,929 occupational licenses to workers employed at medical and recreational cannabis companies (up 68 percent from 2014).

California voters are expected to approve legalized recreational marijuana this fall. (Medicinal marijuana has been legal there since 1996). Voters in Nevada and Massachusetts are also considering legalizing pot. Legalization advocates have suggested that recreational marijuana would provide a boost to tourism, particularly from residents of nearby states where pot remains a crime.

Seems to me Florida could always use an extra tourist or two. Luckily, that Quinnipiac poll also found that 56 percent of Floridians favor legalized recreational pot.

We could use the taxes. We could use the jobs. And Scott could quit these rude visits to other states, making a show of trying to steal away their jobs. He went to California to brag about Florida’s piddling $8.05 an hour minimum wage, compared to $10 in California. (As if some fast-food joint in Santa Barbara would up and move to Ocala, just to save $1.95 an hour on what it pays its burger flippers.)

Meanwhile, the Seattle Times reports that a lowly bud trimmer working at a Washington State marijuana dispensary earns between $12 and $15. Scott could brag that, here in cheapskate Florida, our stoners would pay $10 an hour just for the privilege.