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Recreational pot tax approved

From cultivation to sale, recreational pot should be taxed at every step of the supply chain, the Medford City Council decided Thursday night.

The council voted 5-2 for taxes on pot if Ballot Measure 91 passes on Nov. 4, which would make the drug legal for those 21 years of age or older.

"I'm still troubled that we're talking about taxing," Councilor Bob Strosser said. "I'm more concerned about health and safety issues." Strosser and Councilor Tim Jackle cast the two votes against the ordinance change.

A separate tax on medical marijuana was dropped for the time being.

Deputy City Attorney Kevin McConnell said he wouldn't advise creating a tax on medical marijuana because the city currently has a permanent moratorium on dispensaries. He said the moratorium could create a legal conflict with having a tax on the books for medical marijuana.

"We don't want to raise the dead at this point," he said.

McConnell said the city also needs to be prepared in case the federal government reclassifies marijuana, which it still considers in the same category as dangerous as heroin.

Other councilors said they didn't want to lose their opportunity to tax pot.

"In case Measure 91 passes, I think I want to be in front of the train," Councilor Chris Corcoran said. "I don't have a lot of confidence in the Legislature."

Some cities hope the Legislature will change the measure to allow local taxes and create greater restrictions on the sale and cultivation of pot.

A second reading of the ordinance will be held at a later council meeting, but councilors hoped to get the taxes in place before the election because Measure 91 prohibits additional taxes at the local level.

The city ordinance would have a separate 8 percent tax on each step that includes production, processing and wholesalers. In addition, a 6 percent tax would be applied to retailers.

The council also discussed enacting an ordinance to deal with nuisance smells with pot grows. Under Measure 91, residents could grow four plants in a backyard. The city already receives complaints from local medical marijuana grows.

The city has previously balked at any efforts to allow stores to sell medical marijuana inside the city limits, declaring a permanent moratorium on pot dispensaries.

Councilor Jackle said he wanted to make sure that the city has the potential to ban recreational pot if Measure 91 passes. He said he wanted to reserve the ability to ban recreational marijuana the way it's banned medical marijuana dispensaries.

Measure 91 already taxes marijuana at the state level, but language in the measure specifically prohibits cities from imposing their own taxes. Many local cities, including Ashland, Central Point and Gold Hill, have placed taxes on marijuana, hoping the courts or the Legislature allows them that ability.

The measure has set a statewide tax rate of $35 an ounce, which supporters say would keep the price low enough to keep it out of the black market.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.