Labor force issues resulting from failed urinalysis tests was not the ideal reason to prompt a look into Walla Walla County’s cannabis retail sales.

But that’s where Port of Walla Walla Economic Development Director Paul Gerola found himself recently.

Gerola told attendees at the Port Economic Development Advisory Committee meeting Tuesday he received a call from someone in the business community having difficulty with potential employees not passing the urinalysis portion of employment screening.

Specifics, including the business sector, were not disclosed. But Gerola said it led him down the rabbit hole of retail cannabis sales in Walla Walla. The latest figures for September became part of a report shared with the business community at the meeting.

According to the public data, for the month of September Walla Walla County ranked 20th of the 39 counties in the state for consumer purchases of just over $1 million at the community’s three retailers. Consequently, the county was also 20th in the state during the month for excise tax collection of $278,485. The excise tax is 37 % and paid at the time of purchase. During the month of September the total excise tax collected from cannabis sales in all counties was about $33.4 million.

Walla Walla, according to the data, ranks 19th among all of the state’s counties for per capita retail sales. For 2019 so far, retail sales per person are $17.54. That takes the total retail sales and divides by the population of Walla Walla County, Gerola said.

Although thorough research has not been done locally on potential effects on the labor force, Dr. Patrick Jones, executive director of the Institute for Public Policy at Eastern Washington University that oversees the Walla Walla Trends data research and website, said Walla Walla’s labor force peaked in 2009 and has never fully returned to that level.

The labor force was made up of 31,137 people with 69.6 % actively seeking work — either as employed or unemployed residents. During 2018 the civilian labor force as a share of the population (29,270) was 62.9 %, Walla Walla Trends reported.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at or 509-526-8321.

Vicki covers business and economic development, including tourism, the Port of Walla Walla and the Strictly Business column, as well as features. She has been reporting for the Union-Bulletin since late 2001.