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Jackson County Commissioners plan no tax on marijuana for first year

Jackson County's Board of Commissioners is poised to set the county's tax rate on marijuana sales at zero for the first year the drug is legal for recreational use in Oregon.

An order the three-person board will put to an official vote at an unknown later date is being drafted, but Commissioner Doug Breidenthal said the board is expected to vote unanimously on a zero percent rate after a discussion at a board work session today. The date of the vote will be set as soon as the election results from Measure 15-133 are finalized.

Measure 15-133, which passed with about 63 percent of the vote earlier this month — or 29,156 to 17,168 — allows the county to tax sales of medical and recreational marijuana up to 25 percent. Medical marijuana is not taxed by the state.

Recreational cannabis sales will be legal in Oregon July 1, under a state measure approved by voters last fall. That law imposes an excise tax on marijuana plants and products at the wholesale level but expressly prohibits local governments from imposing their own taxes on marijuana sales. Many city and county governments have imposed taxes anyway, arguing that such taxes would be grandfathered in they if were enacted before July.

Breidenthal said there are a number of factors that shaped the board's decision, including a desire to wait and see if the state legislature passes additional laws clarifying taxation and regulation of the legal marijuana marketplace. 

"We don't want to do something and have them reverse it," Breidenthal said.

Additionally, county officials said they have received litigation threats. The number of marijuana growing operations here also isn't available yet, and county officials said they would like to have that number established before setting a rate.

"We don't have an inventory of really what we're going to tax," said County Administrator Danny Jordan.

Jackson County doesn't have the right systems in place for how the tax would be collected, Breidenthal said. He added having no county tax the first year will also give the county a chance to see if it gets enough revenue from the state. Breidenthal isn't convinced the amount is enough for smaller rural communities, which are likely to be marijuana-growing areas.

"There are more costs to the county than what's being accounted for," Breidenthal said. "It would not cover the true financial impact to Jackson County."

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.