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Aug-05-2016 16:20printcomments

Marion County Commissioners Push Marijuana Issues to November Ballot

Will unincorporated Marion County turn their nose up at tax revenue?

marijuana cannabis

(SALEM, Ore.) - In 2014, Oregon voters passed Measure 91 by approximately 56% to 44%. The measure allows for possession and sale of recreational marijuana (cannabis) by adults, state licensing, regulation, and taxation.

However, Marion County voters voted 48.44% in favor to 51.46% against. As such, state law allows the county to put the future expansion of recreational marijuana businesses to a vote.

On Wednesday, the Marion County Board of Commissioners referred measures related to marijuana for placement on the November ballot.

"By referring these options to the citizens of Marion County we are able to postpone the implementation of large commercial recreational marijuana operations from moving forward in the unincorporated areas of Marion County," Commissioner Kevin Cameron, board chair, wrote on his website.

Farmland must be protected, says Cameron. Indeed, Marion County is the number one producer of agricultural products in the State of Oregon, and the cannabis industry is not blind to that.

Cannabis is one of Oregon's largest agricultural crops, and has been for decades. Now that it's out of the closet, it is a gold mine of sorts for many farmers, as well as well-financed corporations.

Are they from Oregon? Not many. The Oregon Legislature decided to allow businesses from out of state to move into Oregon and enter into this state's cannabis market immediately, with no waiting period. Whether or not voters prefer to empower "local" businesses is no longer a question, for that has been answered by our Legislative body.

Referred measures include:

  • Whether to allow the establishment of medical marijuana processing sites and dispensaries in unincorporated Marion County outside of city limits. The outcome of this measure does not affect medical marijuana grow sites or existing permitted medical marijuana dispensaries.
  • Whether to allow the establishment of recreational marijuana businesses including producers, processors, wholesalers, and retailers in unincorporated Marion County outside of city limits.
  • The establishment of a three percent local tax if the vote allows recreational marijuana businesses.

Marion County Commissioners say the outcome of any of these measures does not prevent any incorporated city from allowing these activities. Many cities in Marion County have taken action to allow recreational marijuana businesses.

None of the measures encroach on an individual's right to possess, grow or use marijuana under Measure 91, and according to Kevin Cameron, does not impact existing medical marijuana dispensaries and growers, as they are grandfathered under these ordinances.

Commissioner Kevin Cameron, board chair, said, "The November vote allows residents of Marion County to either confirm their 2014 vote or change direction."

Follow the Money

Many voters in Oregon made their decision about legalizing recreational marijuana because they saw the income potential for the state.

Areas that prohibit recreational marijuana facilities won’t receive any marijuana tax revenue from the State, which is nothing to sneeze at. According to state economists, Oregon will collect about $43 million in taxes from recreational marijuana in 2016.

At this time, there is a "temporary" 25% tax that began Jan. 1 and goes through Dec. 31. Change is coming fast.

On Jan. 1, 2017, medical stores will no longer be able to conduct recreational sales, and the 25% tax will be replaced with 17% for the state and up to 3% at the local level, for a potential top rate of 20%. The Legislature set the base tax rate at 17%, but allowed cities and counties to adopt ordinances that add up to 3% more, if enacted by a vote of the people.

The Big Picture:

Tax revenue from recreational marijuana first goes to cover the state's costs for administering the marijuana tax (about half the money).

The rest of it is spent like this:

  • 40%: Common School Fund
  • 20%:Mental Health, Alcoholism, and Drug Services Account (ORS 430.380)
  • 15%: State Police
  • 10%: Cities, for local law enforcement
  • 10%: Counties, for local law enforcement
  • 5%: Oregon Health Authority, for alcohol and drug abuse prevention, early intervention, and treatment services

The state tax money disbursements to cities and counties is determined by population through July 2017, then the monies will be determined by the number of licenses issued by OLCC in a given area.

As our culture continues to open up and tolerate the use of cannabis more and more, the choice to not allow the herb to be grown/distributed simply excludes marijuana tax revenue from the community, and inevitably leaves more cash for the rest of the state to share.

When FDR ended alcohol prohibition in December 1933, many towns across America chose to stay "dry". They fought to maintain the life they had grown to know, and indeed, change is terribly difficult for some. Which areas will be "dry" of cannabis farming remains to be seen, an interesting anecdote of the diehards of marijuana prohibition.

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