Long Beach voters will have a say in the city’s long-winding process to regulate medical marijuana collectives this April 8.
Measure A is a ballot initiative that is asking voters whether they want to tax medical marijuana sales in the city.
The City Council originally adopted ordinance 5.87 in May 2010 to regulate medical marijuana collectives and grow sites. After legal wrangling, including rulings from higher courts, the city repealed that ordinance and put in place ordinance 5.89, which effectively banned collectives.
Then, last fall, after some more legal dust had settled, the City Council again decided to take up the issue, requesting that city staff draft a new ordinance through the Planning Commission process. During this time, as well, the City Council voted to propose Measure A to voters.
The Planning Commission recently came up with a broad framework for a potential new ordinance, and city staff currently is in the process of developing a complete ordinance to put before the commission, which can tweak and then send a recommendation for final City Council changes and approval.
Should Measure A pass, it will not go into effect until the entire Planning Commission and City Council process is finished with a regulation ordinance, and only if an ordinance is passed that allows collectives in some form.
“It’s an up and down vote,” Deputy City Attorney Amy Webber said. “Do we want to be able to tax it or not?”
Measure A would set a 6% tax on gross sales at medical marijuana collectives with the ability for the City Council to increase that tax rate to as large as 10%. A gross tax means that if $100,000 worth of marijuana was sold for the year, the collective owners would not get to deduct expenses before the tax was included.
Cultivation and grow sites would start being taxed at $15 per square foot each year, with the ability for City Council to increase that rate to as large as $50 per square foot.
“It’s a general tax, so the funds can be used for any general purpose,” Webber said.
General taxes only require greater than 50% of the votes in favor to pass. The money goes into the general fund, and can therefore be used for anything.
In 2010, Long Beach residents voted to tax recreational marijuana at 15% should that ever become legal at the state or federal level. Other cities in California have medical marijuana taxes set between 2.5% and 15%.
Jina Nam, an attorney for the Long Beach Collective Association, wrote the ballot argument in favor of Measure A. She said the LBCA is a group of advocates that want to balance reasonable patient access to medical marijuana with the city’s interest in protecting the public’s general wellbeing.
LBCA argues that a medical marijuana tax could bring much needed tax revenue into the city and that it would replace an underground market with a legitimate one. Nam said they admit the law is not perfect, and that the rate might be high.
“No one said the situation is ideal,” she added in the rebuttal portion, but LBCA thinks it is better than the current alternatives.
Long Beach resident Larry King wrote the argument against Measure A.
He said he was concerned that the high tax rate from Measure A would place a greater burden on medical marijuana patients who need the drug for relief from a number of chronic and debilitating health issues.
He added that in California, no other prescribed medicine in California is taxed; it is not guaranteed how the City Council will spend the tax revenue; and that the city is setting itself up for more expensive lawsuits should Measure A pass.
“A no vote will send the right message to city hall that the citizens of Long Beach are sick and tired of being literally taxed to death,” he added in the rebuttal.
The municipal election will take place on April 8. For more information, visit www.longbeach.gov/cityclerk/elections.
Jonathan Van Dyke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.