Commissioners call special election for marijuana tax
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners will pay roughly $100,000 to finance a March 10 special election in the hope that voters will approve a tax on medical and recreational marijuana, even though Measure 91 forbids it.
Last November, commissioners Doug Breidenthal and Don Skundrick, who is no longer on the board, authorized a marijuana tax that, if approved by voters, would be imposed on sellers and producers of medical and recreational marijuana and be retroactive to Dec. 1.
The amount of the tax levied on sellers would be determined annually by commissioners and could be as high as 25 percent. Marijuana producers would be charged $35 per ounce on marijuana flowers, $10 per ounce on marijuana leaves and $5 per immature plant. People would not have to pay taxes if they were producing medical or recreational marijuana solely for their own consumption. The taxes would apply only to unincorporated parts of the county, not inside cities.
Rather than wait for the May 19 district elections, the board has called for and will finance a special election March 10.
Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker said the cost of a special election is covered by the government body that called the election and is determined by a number of factors, including the cost of printing ballots, personnel, computer services, postage and printing voter pamphlets.
“Ballots alone cost more than $30,000 and that’s cheap,” said Walker, adding that she won’t know the exact cost until after the election but estimates it'll be in the neighborhood of $100,000.
The ballots, she said, will be posted Feb. 20, start to show up in voters’ mailboxes as early as Feb. 21 and need to be returned no later than 8 p.m. March 10. The deadline for voter registration is Feb. 17.
To cut costs, a single-page, double-sided voters pamphlet will be inserted in the envelope with the ballot.
Breidenthal said March 10 was the soonest the board could get the measure in front of voters.
“We felt because it was a tax issue it deserved to be put on the ballot as soon as possible,” he said.
Passed by Oregon voters Nov. 4, Measure 91 legalizes the production, processing, sale and recreational use of limited amounts of marijuana by adults age 21 and older. Medical marijuana was already legal in Oregon. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law.
Measure 91 imposes a state marijuana tax and allocates 40 percent of the revenue to schools; 20 percent for mental health services and alcohol and drug treatment; 15 percent to state police; 20 percent for local law enforcement; and 5 percent to the Oregon Health Authority.
It also specifies that “no county or city of this state shall impose any fee or tax … in connection with the purchase, sale, production, processing, transportation, and delivery of marijuana items.”
Nonetheless, Jackson County commissioners are hoping the county marijuana tax will be grandfathered in and help to offset the financial strain that the legalization of marijuana will place on local law enforcement.
“Our ordinance was in place prior to the state law going into effect,” Breidenthal said. “As we understand state law, there was nothing in Measure 91 that preempted us from having ordinances in place prior to the law.
“Most likely, there will be a legal challenge at some point in time, but I don’t want to speak about that at this time,” he added. “There’s nothing in (Measure 91) that will take our (ordinance) off the books.”
Since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, the number of driving-while-intoxicated cases in Denver County has increased substantially, said Breidenthal, adding that the financial burden of legalizing marijuana should not fall on taxpayers but be put “squarely on the shoulders of those using it.”
According to Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, a member of the recently established joint legislative committee charged with overseeing the implementation of Measure 91, legislators aren't likely to “radically” change Measure 91 to allow for county- and city-imposed marijuana taxes, which could drive consumers to black markets.
“I would encourage the county to hold off,” Buckley said. “The measure is very clear that the taxation should be kept to a level that gives us the best chance possible to eliminate the black market.
“The best course of action would be to wait a few years to see what happens,” he said.