A committee advising the city of Bend on rules governing the sale of recreational cannabis on Thursday backed proposing a 3 percent sales tax on marijuana.
The proposal still has to be vetted by the City Council, and, if approved, would go to voters in November 2016. The committee, which began meeting in September, includes members of the marijuana industry, attorneys, a doctor and a member of the Bend-La Pine School Board. In addition to considering taxes, the committee also discussed policies for a local business operating license.
Some members of the committee did have reservations about a tax, though only two voted against the idea. Jeremy Kwit, a committee member who runs the medical dispensary Bloom Well, noted one upside of Measure 91, which legalized marijuana in Oregon, that a tax may negate. According to Kwit, legalization will help “limit the black market,” but taxes could push prices up to a point where illegal marijuana becomes cheap enough to regain its appeal.
Tristain Reisfar, a member who advocates for medical marijuana patients, wanted to ensure that such a tax would never be applied to medical marijuana, comparing it to taxing insulin. The city does not have the authority to tax medical marijuana.
There was also disagreement over how such tax money should be spent. David Rosen, a member and attorney, advocated the money be used to fund education efforts focused on preventing marijuana from being used by kids. Reisfar questioned the efficacy of such programs and noted the city is facing issues with street maintenance, suggesting the slogan, “pot for potholes.”
In the end, the group decided to recommend the money go to the city’s general fund that pays for such things as street maintenance, urban planning and police and fire.
State law doesn’t allow the city to enact a tax of higher than 3 percent. Assistant City Manager Jon Skidmore said it’s estimated such a tax could generate around $200,000 per year, but that the estimate “could be close or completely off.” The local tax would be in addition to other state-level taxes.
During the meeting, the group also discussed a business licensing program. Many of the rules the committee has backed are drawn from state laws.
For example, a retail outlet would lose its license if it operated outside of 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., a range set forth by state rules. Additionally, with a few exceptions, on-site consumption of cannabis would be forbidden, something the state has said it will enforce.
Another provision bans the placement of marijuana and related paraphernalia in display windows. While the group voted to back this rule, Kwit noted a number of stores sell and prominently display pipes that could be used to consume cannabis, including one store downtown.
One point of disagreement concerned whether to allow Bend Police to enter a recreational marijuana facility to inspect it. The state will inspect such businesses through the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.
Cheri Helt, a committee member and school board member, noted that police inspect bars, which are also overseen by the OLCC, suggesting marijuana businesses shouldn’t be treated differently.
Kwit pointed out that marijuana users may feel nervous around police, given that consumption has been “demonized and stigmatized” for so long.
In the end, the committee voted to allow police to enter recreational outlets.
At its next meeting, the date of which hasn’t been set, the group will discuss caps on the number of marijuana businesses in town.
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