By Deb Murphy
After some wordsmithing and extensive discussion, the Inyo County Board of Supervisors added three measures to the November 8 ballot to determine voters’ mindset on medical and recreational marijuana businesses and local taxes on those businesses.
The latter will be dependent on the passage of Prop. 64 legalizing recreational marijuana and on the outcome of the two advisory measures.
The wording on the actual advisory measures is a little confusing: “Should the County of Inyo adopt land-use regulations on commercial cannabis businesses within the County…..” However, the explanation is clear: a “yes shall be counted in favor of the County developing laws authorizing commercial medical” (or recreational) “cannabis businesses.
The taxation measure is crystal clear: If approved, the county will levy a 5-percent tax on the gross receipts from cultivation, dispensaries and all other commercial businesses. The tax will be in place January 1, 2017 with the potential of 2.5-percent incremental increases as of July 1, 2020. Those increases can be imposed once every fiscal year with a cap of 12.5-percent.
One of the issues brought up at last week’s workshop was the danger of black market pot sales if local taxes were set too high. The legislation passed in preparation of Prop. 64 already imposes a 15-percent tax on commercial operations. County Counsel Rudolph Marshall explained that the gross receipt tax rate could be lowered to discourage an influx of black market product.
The taxation resolution also sets minimum taxes on cultivation based on the size of the operation: 2,500-square foot sites will pay a minimum of $1,250 in taxes; from 2,500 to 5,000 square ft., a $2,500 minimum and more than 5,000 square feet, a $5,000 minimum.
The minimums made the Supervisors nervous; Chair Jeff Griffiths initially felt the $1,250 was “too draconian” and could discourage small cottage industries.
However County Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio explained that the resolution was modeled on Mendicino County’s ordinance with a focus on protecting smaller operations. And, Marshall assured the Supervisors that details of the taxation ordinance could be changed at a later date if the minimums proved to be onerous.