- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to put a measure on the November ballot asking voters whether marijuana businesses should pay a tax to be used toward combating homelessness.

If voters pass the ordinance, then a 10 percent tax would be imposed on businesses that produce or distribute pot and cannabis-infused products.

The tax would not directly apply to retail weed sales, but rather to the companies that helped California’s cannabis industry net more than $2.7 billion in medical marijuana sales during 2015.

County officials believe the business tax, if approved by voters, could raise between $78 million and $130 million toward fighting homelessness in its first year.

In order for the effort to meet expectations, however, California voters will also have to pass a separate measure appearing on the November ballot that would legalize recreational marijuana across the state from Alameda to Yorba Linda.

California became the first state in the country to establish a medical marijuana program upon passage of Proposition 215 in 1996, and it’s one of five states expected to let voters decide on Election Day whether or not to decriminalize recreational weed.

The Adult Use of Marijuana Act, if passed, would let Californians over the age of 21 possess up to an ounce of marijuana for private recreational use and harvest up to six plants, as well as establish a framework for cities to license, regulate and tax marijuana sales, among other measures.

Nationwide, legal marijuana sales totaled $5.7 billion in 2015, according to a report published recently by New Frontier and ArcView Market Research. Should Californians agree to decriminalize recreational weed in November, then the analysts expect the state’s marijuana market could be worth $6.6 billion by 2018.

The Los Angeles Housing Services Authority’s most recent report put the number of county residents suffering from homelessness at around 47,000, with the majority residing within L.A. city limits. Last month, the L.A. City Council said it was placing an initiative on the November ballot that calls for investing $1.2 billion toward building housing for the homeless, and the county ordinance, if successful, could further fund local efforts aimed at combating the area’s chronic homelessness problem.

The county Board of Supervisors agreed 3-2 on Tuesday to put the ordinance on the November ballot. The measure will need support from two-thirds of the voters to be enacted. If approved, the funds collected through the new tax would go toward mental-health and substance-abuse treatment, rental subsidies, emergency housing and other services for homeless people, the L.A. Times reported.

“I personally want something on the November ballot that brings money in to help us fund the services that we must have to fight homelessness,” said Sheila Kuehl, a county supervisor who voted in favor of the measure, L.A. Daily News reported.

“I feel that the special tax on marijuana sales will be an effective revenue source as we work to achieve our goal of ending homelessness,” added Hilda Solis, another supervisor who supports the measure.

Among those who oppose the effort is Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who admitted in a letter to the Board of Supervisors that the local homeless problem is “dire,” but it does not warrant marijuana legalization.

“We must take action to provide decent housing and restore dignity to those forced to live in such unsafe and deplorable conditions,” he wrote the board. “However, I am strongly opposed to the legalization of marijuana and therefore any initiative that proposes taxation of it, as a prudent strategy to mitigate and prevent homelessness.”

Another critic, Americans For Safe Access spokeswoman Sarah Armstrong, told the Daily News that California’s current medicinal marijuana patients risk being financially impacted if their dealers, so to speak, are soon subjected to a 10 percent business tax.

“It’s seems unfair to tax a segment that could remain homeless as a result of their illness,” she said. “Please remove the medical marijuana tax. You have other options. Medical marijuana patients are already taxed.”

California, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts and Maine will all hold votes this year regarding whether or not to legalize recreational marijuana, while measures concerning medicinal pot will appear on ballots in Florida, Missouri and Arkansas.

Washington, D.C., and 25 states currently have legal medicinal marijuana programs, while Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado have all voted in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes.

City officials in Aurora, Colorado, announced previously that it will use $1.5 million generated by recreational marijuana taxes to fund projects benefiting the area’s homeless population.

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