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Oregon Welcomes Cannabis Businesses Into Its Auto-Enrollment Retirement Program

OregonSaves Expands to Include Cannabusinesses
Photo Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now

Economics

Oregon Welcomes Cannabis Businesses Into Its Auto-Enrollment Retirement Program

Oregon’s Department of Treasury is extending cannabis businesses the opportunity to sign up for its retirement savings program — the first of its kind in the United States.

As of early April, auto-enrollment retirement program OregonSaves will officially allow cannabis businesses, as well as individuals employed by those businesses, to sign up for membership.

“We’re really excited about making it possible for everybody in Oregon to save for their retirement and remove all the barriers we possibly can in that regard,” Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read told Cannabis Now. “We think it’s important for people, no matter what industry they work in, to have a chance to be in control of their financial future, and we’re excited to that that is now the case.”

The program, which automatically diverts a portion of a participating employee’s gross income into a private retirement fund, kicked off in July 2017. Most recently, it expanded to include gig workers and contract employees, alongside cannabusinesses. OregonSaves was the first auto-enrollment program of its kind to get off the ground, though states like California, Illinois and New Jersey have since followed suit and enacted similar legislation.

When the New York Times spoke to workers a few months after the program’s launch in November 2018, most of those interviewed worked at small businesses and seemed happy to be given an easy route for retirement savings. A little more than a year later, OregonSaves was praised in a Forbes op-ed as a positive contributor to financial security for families.

And according to Read, in the year and a half since the program began, participants have already set aside 18 million dollars in retirement savings. “Every week, we see more people and more dollars coming in,” he says. “We see it becoming more well-known and accepted.”

Read also says that so far, around 30 different cannabis businesses have already signed up for the program. “We literally sent a letter to every business that’s registered with the Oregon Liquor Control Commission with a with a cannabis license,” he says, and added that he and his team also make house calls to interested parties.

“This is a person’s own money, with no claims on it by anyone else, the state or the employer, and it’s portable so they can take it with them as they move from job to job throughout their career,” Read says. “For us, it’s really about empowering individuals and giving them the choices that they want.”

This inclusion of cannabis industry workers in a state-run savings program is particularly notable when contrasted to the way those workers have been regarded on a national level, especially recently. For instance, there’s the latest proclamation from the Department of Homeland Security that justified denying immigrants citizenship because their participation in state-legal cannabis activities — be it as workers, medical patients or recreational consumers — bars them from possessing the “good moral character” required to become an American citizen.

And, of course, there’s the fact that marijuana remains federally illegal, and though hemp is in the clear as of the 2018 Farm Bill, CBD is still stuck in a legal gray area due to feet-dragging from the FDA.

It’s also worth noting that this announcement comes in the midst of a federal push to clarify cannabis banking policies, a complicated legal battle that has thus far resulted in a range of rules that vary widely from state to state.

It remains to be seen if other auto-enrollment programs like Illinois Secure Choice, in a state where medical marijuana is legal, or California’s CalSavers will once again follow Oregon’s lead and explicitly open up their services to members of the cannabis industry — but for the sake of the future of workers, one can only hope the answer is yes.

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