LA County supervisors back initiative to tax pot

California Governor Brown has signed a trio of new laws to regulate the medical marijuana industry.
California Governor Brown has signed a trio of new laws to regulate the medical marijuana industry.
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In November, Los Angeles County voters will be asked to approve an initiative that would tax the sales of recreational and medical marijuana to help pay for homeless services and housing.

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday debated several different tax measures, including a parcel tax and a sales tax, and the tax on marijuana businesses came out on top. If approved by voters, it would tax the gross sales of recreational and medical marijuana by up to 10 percent starting in 2018.

"Today, we took a major step toward identifying a sustainable source of funding to pay for the housing and support services needed to implement that plan and house the 47,000 men, women, and children who are homeless today,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said in a statement released after the vote.

Over 100 members of the public shared their views on the proposed measures during the meeting. Opinions on the marijuana tax in particular were varied, but many advocated for county regulation of the drug.

A county analysis shows the proposed tax would generate between $78 million and $130 million a year for anti-homelessness initiatives. Polling data showed that 69 percent of eligible voters would vote "yes" on the measure.

Before the tax becomes law, however, California voters must first approve The Adult Use of Marijuana Act Initiative, a state measure that seeks to legalize recreational marijuana. In addition, the marijuana tax will need the approval of two-thirds of L.A. county's voters to pass.

The board requested for more information to be gathered that could help decide on the exact rate of taxation. Tax marijuana too high, some worried, and you might drive sales of the drug to illegal markets.

Mark Ridley-Thomas voted against the measure because he said it didn't do enough to generate needed funds for homelessness. 

"That is not the way, at this point of time, to get after this problem in an aggressive way, commiserate with our claims that this is urgent or an emergency," he said.

Ridley-Thomas initially championed the proposed parcel tax but motioned to withdraw it from consideration as the board narrowed in on the marijuana tax and the proposed sales tax. He then threw his support behind the sales tax, he said, because he felt it would be the quickest way to raise sufficient funds for homeless services. That measure failed to get the requisite four votes to appear on voters' ballots.

The county has allocated $150 million for homeless services and housing. This measure, Keuhl said, would create a sustained source of funding for the future.

Last month, the Los Angeles City Council voted to put a bond measure on the November ballot that is estimated to generate $1 billion for housing for the homeless. If approved by the voters, the city's property owners would see an increase in their property taxes.