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High on Taxes


On Tuesday, nearly two dozen new specialty stores opened in Washington State; that is, marijuana is finally for sale, legally, from Bellingham to Vancouver. Approved by voters nearly 18 months ago, Washington Liquor Control Board approved 24 outlets to open last week. Reportedly, some 7,000 permits have been submitted to the control board, but the state agency is wisely favoring a slow roll out of the new industry. Likewise, some 2,400 requests for growing permits have been submitted, but so far only 100 have been approved.

All of this is perhaps a glimpse into Oregon's future: On June 26, supporters of legalizing marijuana in Oregon delivered 145,000 signatures to the state capitol in Salem, nearly twice the number necessary to place the matter on November's ballot, meaning that it is nearly guaranteed to reach the ballot in November and, with successes in Colorado and what seems to be a prudent rollout by Washington, is more likely than not to pass in Oregon.

As the novelty—and jokes—have waned about legalizing marijuana, the reality about implementing and regulating its trade have become more pressing. In Colorado, there has been legalized growing and sales of marijuana since January 1. Although voters there approved legalization of marijuana at the same time as Washington voters, in November 2012, stores opened quicker in Colorado where, like Oregon, a medical marijuana system was already in place.

Not surprisingly, detractors have tried to paint the legalization as dangerous, citing two deaths in the past seven months, including a 19-year-old college student who jumped from a hotel balcony after eating a pot brownie, and a Denver resident who is currently facing first-degree murder charges after allegedly attacking his wife with a knife after eating marijuana-laced candy (and, oh right, mixing with prescription meds).

Those reports, and an alleged uptick in citations of emergency room trips for marijuana-related illnesses, have been widely circulated on the Internet. Yet, those incidents seem to go against the grain about what police are reporting. Several stings have been conducted on Colorado dispensaries, and so far they have reported 100 percent compliance in terms of not selling to minors. Moreover, since sales began in January, Colorado already has collected $24 million in taxes, and it is predicted that Washington will collect $190 million in taxes over the next four years.

Oregon stands to learn from the successful rollouts in both states, especially the careful and prudent implement by the State of Washington, which has taken its time to set in place permitting and oversight mechanisms.

Perhaps even smarter, already some small town legislators are taking measures to prepare for what seems like the inevitable legalization of marijuana: Just last Tuesday, the City of Ashland took a wise and proactive measure when its city council adopted a bevy of laws regulating and taxing both medical and recreational marijuana, as well as governing the location and operation of dispensaries; in particular, the council authorized a tax as much as 5 percent on medical marijuana, and a tax up to 10 percent on recreational marijuana sales. Specific tax rates will be set at future meetings.

What is particularly clever about this legislation is that while recreational marijuana is not yet legal in Ashland or the State of Oregon, the proposed recreational marijuana legalization will bar cities from imposing their own taxes. However, city managers in Ashland have pointed out that it is not clear that a ban on taxes will apply to cities that adopt taxes before the measure takes effect. Meaning: If recreational marijuana does become legal in Oregon, Ashland may stand alone as a city that is able to benefit and provide additional city services because of sales within its borders.

As other cities are bickering whether to allow medical marijuana dispensaries, Ashland is getting ahead of the curve of history. Bend would be wise to consider the same.

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