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Commissioner says pot tax levels playing field

The chairman of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners says a ballot measure passed Tuesday allowing the county to tax marijuana sales is necessary to correct imbalances created by Measure 91.

Measure 15-133, which allows the county to impose up to a 25-percent tax on recreational and medical marijuana sales, passed with 63 percent of the vote, or 29,042 to 17,062. While local taxation has been criticized by some marijuana advocates who say it could encourage the black market Measure 91 is intended to discourage, Commissioner Doug Breidenthal says the measure has been wrongly interpreted as an anti-marijuana move.

"This is a 30-point spread — this is what they call a landslide," he says. "Our charter is a privilege to the voters because they get to decide themselves what they're going to be subject to with taxation."

Breidenthal points out that Medford, Ashland, Gold Hill and Central Point passed their own local taxes on marijuana without a vote by residents. 

Measure 15-133 also taxes medical marijuana, which isn't taxed at the state level. Breidenthal says members of the medical marijuana industry told them they weren't opposed to some taxation if it could provide a framework for regulating the quality of their product, complaining that some of their patients were being sold low-quality medicine. He says there are issues with funding marijuana regulatory programs from other revenue streams that make local taxation the only option. 

There's also the question of the state law's tax structure, which Breidenthal says doesn't provide enough for small communities.

"After 36 months, the structure changes, and then it's divvied out to the local governments based on the number of dispensaries within the community," he says. He says that could disenfranchise Southern Oregon, which grows much of the state's marijuana but has relatively few retail dispensaries.

Breidenthal says the commissioners need more time before they're ready to decide on countywide tax rates or how revenues will be distributed, but he did point out that commissioners made the tax retroactive to Dec. 1, 2014.

"Essentially, the tax could be assessed starting April 1, 2015," he says.

Reach reporter Thomas Moriarty at 541-776-4471, or by email at tmoriarty@mailtribune.com. Follow him at @ThomasDMoriarty.