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Riverside County Voters Will Weigh Taxing Marijuana Dispensaries

On Tuesday, voters in three Riverside County cities will decide whether to tax marijuana dispensaries to fund municipal services. The cities would join a host of others that have passed similar measures.
On Tuesday, voters in three Riverside County cities will decide whether to tax marijuana dispensaries to fund municipal services. The cities would join a host of others that have passed similar measures. | Photo: Brett Levin/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Three Riverside County cities are asking voters in Tuesday's election to approve tax levies on medical marijuana dispensaries in order to boost revenue needed to fund basic services.

Blythe, Cathedral City, and Desert Hot Springs each have ballot measures targeting cannabis collectives. Desert Hot Springs has two such proposals -- Measures HH and II.

Under Measure HH, the financially troubled city is seeking to impose an annual tax of $25 per square foot on the first 3,000 feet of any establishment that distributes marijuana products. According to the proposal, the balance of available space would be taxed at a rate of $10 per square foot.

"The tax will help fund basic city services such as street sweeping, public parks, building and maintenance, public safety, youth and adult programs, and public infrastructure," according to a campaign statement by supporters.

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They noted the city's revenue needs will "become ever more pressing" over the next two fiscal years, despite a 70 percent cut in municipal staffing and other recent austerity actions to balance the budget.

Measure II seeks a 10 percent tax on "any person or entity legally selling or providing marijuana for medical and casual use."

Local resident Robert Bentley blasted both proposals, saying they will only impact "good law-abiding people."

"Don't get between a doctor and patient. Never tax medical items," Bentley said. "This revives the War on Drugs -- aimless, ever-expanding enforcement, and costs."

In nearby Cathedral City, Measure N proposes a "Cannabis and Marijuana Tax" on medical marijuana collectives, at a maximum rate of 15 cents of every $1 of proceeds. In campaign statements, backers said the new tax would support "general municipal services," including public safety and recreational programs.

According to city leaders, Palm Springs is raking in around $1 million annually thanks to a tax on medical marijuana dispensaries, so why shouldn't Cat City enjoy the same revenue potential?

Supporters emphasized that the tax would not in any way authorize or condone "the conduct or continuance of any illegal business, or a legal business (being conducted) in an illegal manner."

Blythe's Measure Z would restrict the number of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city to three, all of which would be required to have special permits -- costing up to $10,000 -- that mandate on-site security, the maintenance of written records related to transactions and the prohibition against any drugs being used on the premises.

According to the proposal, a dispensary would have to pay the city a maximum monthly fee of 15 cents for every $1 in proceeds and $10 for every square foot of space utilized for cannabis cultivation.

"For many in Blythe, it's a considerable hardship to travel 100 miles to Palm Springs, where the closest dispensary is located," according to a statement in support of the measure. "The alternative is to buy in the black market. The best solution for all is a well-regulated commercial establishment, where patients can purchase their medicine."

Measure Z opponents complained in campaign literature that "marijuana purchased from dispensaries in other cities continues to show up at Palo Verde High School," and permitting distribution outlets in Blythe would only invite trouble.

Under the California Compassionate Use Act of 1996, also known as Proposition 215, the possession and cultivation of marijuana for medicinal purposes is legal. However, localities can regulate the type, location and hours of operation of any dispensary.

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