It’s a brave new world for the California marijuana industry after state voters in November approved the drug for recreational consumption. It’s also a wild and unruly world as an industry that has forever operated in the shadows steps out into the light for the first time.
Prop. 64, which legalized cannabis, also authorized local municipalities to enact regulations on the industry, and jurisdictions across the state are scrambling to put rules in place ahead of anticipated retail sales of marijuana in January of next year. In Sonoma County, not far removed from the Emerald Triangle pot growing bastion, and home to thousands of cannabis cultivators, officials have already adopted a sweeping ordinance to deal with the industry, which continues to remain illegal under federal law.
The Board of Supervisors in December passed the rules that establish where and how cannabis businesses can operate, including where the crop can be grown outside of city limits.
But the new regulatory framework will not come cheap. The county will need to hire dozens of new workers in the permitting and agricultural departments to regulate the industry. It will also need to offset impacts on code enforcement and crime.
Implementation of the ordinance is largely tied to the passage of a ballot measure to tax the cannabis industry. Measure A, on the March 7 ballot, would impose a tax on growers and related businesses to pay for the impacts of bringing the industry above ground.
There is little doubt that the industry should pay for its impacts, and Measure A faces little opposition. In fact, the Sonoma County Growers Alliance is backing the measure. The industry group says growers would rather pay a tax as opposed to a more costly conditional use permit structure.
The initial rate as proposed would be a modest tax of between 50 cents and $5 per square foot for outdoor growers and $1.88 to $18.75 per square foot for indoor cultivators. Larger operations, which in theory create more impacts, would be taxed at the higher end of the scale. County officials estimate that the new tax would generate more than $6 million in the first year.
The measure allows supervisors to raise the tax up to a cap of $10 per square foot for outdoor growers and $38 per square foot for indoor growers, or 10 percent of gross receipts per year. An advisory committee would be established to monitor the tax rate and ensure that it is equitable.
Measure A is a good idea, and it is worthy of a “yes” vote. Since legal cannabis is the new normal, we should accept it and treat it like any other regulated industry. And since other industries are taxed and pay their share of impacts, the cannabis industry ought to pay this tax.
We recommend voting “yes” on Measure A on the March 7 ballot.