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County Supervisors approve cannabis tax proposal for November ballot

Marijuana bud at the OutCo Labs growing facility, May 9, 2019.
Matt Hoffman
/
KPBS
Marijuana bud at the OutCo Labs growing facility, May 9, 2019.

A proposal to place a cannabis business tax on the November ballot was approved Tuesday by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.

Supervisors will discuss the exact ballot wording at an August board meeting.

If passed by voters, the measure would affect cannabis businesses in the county's unincorporated areas.

Supervisors Joel Anderson, Nathan Fletcher, Terra Lawson-Remer and Nora Vargas voted yes on the second reading of the proposal to place the cannabis tax measure on the ballot, with Supervisor Jim Desmond voting no.

Earlier this month, the board voted 3-1 — with Desmond also opposed — to take an early step toward placing a cannabis tax measure on the ballot. The board approved a draft resolution calling for a 75-word ballot question, and arguments for and against the measure, along with a fiscal impact.

Five cannabis operations are allowed to operate in San Diego County — three in Ramona and one each in unincorporated areas bordering El Cajon and Escondido.

During a brief public comment period, most callers were opposed to the tax proposal, saying any benefits would be overshadowed by the harm of increased cannabis use.

Kathleen Lippitt, a Poway resident and public policy advocate, said a cannabis tax is presumptuous and not really in the public interest.

The cannabis industry "has been running this show for the last 18 months," Lippitt said, referring to the county's cannabis equity policy.

Kelly Hayes, an attorney who represents cannabis businesses, said supervisors should consider a lower tax rate for marijuana cannabis.

Hayes said that only 26% of licensed operators in the state are turning a profit, and if the county wants to stop illegal businesses, it needs to give legal ones the tools they need to be successful.