Mendocino supervisors drop pot tax plan

April 05, 2005

Glenda Anderson, Press-Democrat

Mendocino County supervisors on Tuesday shunned a proposal to study regulating and taxing medical pot, at least for now.

'The county has enough to do at the moment,' said Supervisor David Colfax.

The proposal was brought to the board by Ukiah-area Supervisor Jim Wattenburger.

'If it's going to be legal, then it has to be regulated,' he said.

California voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996, legalizing marijuana for medicinal use. Since then, pot gardens have been blossoming openly in Mendocino County, which already is renowned for its illegal marijuana crops. It's also openly sold at area cannabis clubs.

Wattenburger last month called medical marijuana 'a major economic driving force' that should be regulated like any other business. He estimated hundreds of thousands of dollars are being funneled through cannabis clubs.

That's money the county's ailing budget could sorely use, Wattenburger said.

But other supervisors doubted counties have the authority to collect taxes on medical pot profits, which remain illegal. Growers of medicinal pot are supposed to recoup only reasonable costs associated with production. The law does not define those costs.

Local governments may not be able to tax pot sales, but they can collect fees from cannabis clubs to cover the cost of regulating them. Oakland began regulating clubs last year and several other cities, including Santa Rosa, Willits and San Francisco, are considering following suit by limiting the numbers and locations of cannabis clubs.

Oakland charges between $5,000 and $20,000 to permit each club, depending on the number of patients they serve, said Erica Harrold, a spokeswoman for the city attorney's office.

There are only two known clubs in Mendocino County, both of them in Ukiah. The county's Major Crimes Task Force shut down the only known club in the unincorporated portion of the county in February after its owner allegedly sold pot to undercover drug agents. That leaves the county without a club to regulate.

While Wattenburger's proposal was billed as a pot taxing plan, he said his main concern is patient and public safety.

He said he's worried legitimate medical marijuana patients could become more ill from smoking pot contaminated with pesticides, a concern shared by the county's agricultural commissioner. In January, Agricultural Commissioner Dave Bengston asked the state whether he should be regulating medical pot gardens and was curtly told no.

Three of Wattenburger's fellow supervisors said the proposal to tax and regulate pot clubs is too complex to tackle, particularly at a time when the county is facing budget deficits.

But they encouraged him to continue researching the issue himself and report back.

'I admire and applaud the effort,' said Supervisor David Colfax.

Wattenburger dropped his proposal to have a committee study medical pot problems and solutions rather than have it voted down.

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