San Francisco Chronicle

Senator backs state sales tax on medical pot

- By Melody Gutierrez

SACRAMENTO — California would levy a new 15 percent tax on medical marijuana sales to enforce new regulation­s and pay for state programs, rehabilita­tion and parks under a bill introduced Wednesday.

The Marijuana Value Tax Act could bring the state more than $ 100 million in new revenue. The tax was anticipate­d after the state passed historic regulation­s last year that require state and local licenses for medical marijuana businesses under the new Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation­s.

“Now that there is a long overdue reg-

ulatory framework put into place, it’s time to help fund the areas that are most affected by the cultivatio­n — those communitie­s that have long been paying the price of the negative effects of cultivatio­n brought on by the ‘ bad actors’ who destroy the environmen­t and bring in crime,” state Sen. Mike McGuire, D- Healdsburg, who authored SB987 and parts of last year’s marijuana regulation­s, said in a statement.

California became the first state in the nation to allow for medicinal use of marijuana two decades ago. Until last year’s regulation­s were signed into law, the billion- dollar industry remained largely unregulate­d.

The Board of Equalizati­on said it anticipate­s medical marijuana sales to increase with the new laws. In 2014, the state took in $ 50 million in sales taxes from 1,623 dispensari­es that registered with the Board of Equalizati­on and filed taxes.

Marijuana taxes could eventually be higher than 15 percent if the bill becomes law. As with sales taxes, cities and counties would be able to enact their own local taxes or fees on top of the state’s 15 percent tax.

Under SB987, 30 percent of revenue from the new tax would go to the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation, which would then award grants to local agencies — such as cities and law enforcemen­t — that provide oversight on the cultivatio­n, processing, manufactur­ing, distributi­on and sale of marijuana.

Another 30 percent of the new tax would go to the state’s general fund, and 20 percent would go to state parks to help alleviate a $ 1 billion deferred maintenanc­e backlog. The state Natural Resources Agency would get 10 percent of the marijuana tax to restore public and private lands and waterways damaged by marijuana grows. The final 10 percent would go to counties for drug and alcohol treatment programs.

“I won’t say it’s not excessive — it is excessive, but it really provides a budget for the state to make it a legitimate industry like alcohol, tobacco or even gambling,” said Eddie Miller, chief strategy officer of GreenRush. com, a San Mateo online platform that connects patients with local medical marijuana dispensari­es. “These are the steps necessary to have a quality industry and a safe industry for the consumer.”

The tax mirrors what is being proposed in one of several ballot initiative­s aimed at legalizing recreation­al marijuana use for adults. Proponents of recreation­al marijuana are collecting signatures for initiative­s they hope to put on the November ballot.

The tax bill needs support from two- thirds of lawmakers in the Assembly and state Senate in order to pass, meaning Republican­s leery of new taxes would have to sign on. Last year’s marijuana regulation­s earned bipartisan support.

Former Republican state Sen. George Runner, who is now vice chair of the Board of Equalizati­on, has called on the Legislatur­e to create an excise tax on medical marijuana sales.

“I’m the first to admit that government is too bloated and that California­ns are overtaxed,” Runner said in a statement last year. “But the fundamenta­l question here is who should pay the steep costs of marijuanar­elated activities that include trespass on public lands, water theft and unregulate­d use of pesticides.”

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