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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

San Diego Missing Out On Revenues From Pot Legalization

 December 16, 2019 at 9:22 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 Two years ago, California legalized the purchase and sale of recreational marijuana. Since then, the state has collected hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes from the cannabis industry as part of our series, high hopes California's pot experiment. KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen examined where the money goes and why San Diego gets less than other big cities. So how are you feeling? Speaker 2: 00:25 I am doing well today. Speaker 3: 00:26 Thanks so much for coming. David Mancala is meeting with a counselor at family health centers of San Diego. He's in their intensive outpatient program for drug addicts. Do you currently have a sponsor? Yes. How did you meet him or her? A few years ago, Mancado was a homeless meth user who frequently got arrested. Things changed when someone from family health centers visited him in jail. They convinced him to enroll in a program run by the city attorney's office, focused on breaking the cycle of incarceration for low level drug offenders. When he was released, Moncada got a ride directly from jail to the health clinic. He says from there they made it easy. Speaker 2: 01:04 Their access with centralized. So they made my, uh, appointments with my therapist. They made my appointment with my psychologist. He made point, uh, to get a physical. So I started getting back into the health plan. There's no way I would've picked up the phone at the time and been like, I need to make an appointment and I'm not going to stay on hold. Speaker 3: 01:19 It's this kind of intense handholding that Moncada says helped him stick with his recovery and it's the kind of work. Family health centers will soon do more of thanks to a $300,000 grant funded by California's cannabis taxes. The grants were promised as part of the 2016 ballot measure that legalized pot, and they're prioritized in communities most harmed by the nation's decades long war on drugs. But despite sales of recreational pot being legal for two years, many of these programs have been delayed because of lack of funding. The state is missing out on tremendous amounts of tax revenue. Dalen young is political director for the association of cannabis professionals. The industry estimates up to 80% of California's pot retailers are unlicensed and untaxed young says, the main reason for this are the bands or severe restrictions on legal sales imposed by local governments. So right Speaker 4: 02:15 there, that creates a lot of access deserts. So patients cannot get access to, to any of these products. Speaker 3: 02:21 Their jurisdictions don't allow them. Cannabis shops are notoriously difficult and costly to open. In San Diego, the city has fewer than 20 licensed retailers open for business. Denver has more than eight times that number with less than half of San Diego's population. Young says, if San Diego wants more cannabis tax revenue, it has to allow more businesses to participate in the legal market. Speaker 4: 02:44 So I, I think that, uh, it's, it's very prudent for our local governments to take out the moral judgment of whether or not cannabis is right or wrong, good or bad, and focus on the benefits that could be gained from this type of revenue. That th that the state is going to be, uh, to these communities Speaker 3: 03:00 about that grant program that San Diego County didn't compete very well. It received 1.2 $5 million. Meanwhile, other large Metro areas including LA, Sacramento and Oakland got between three and seven times as much money per capita. Delane young says local officials could have done more to drum up interest in the program. Speaker 4: 03:20 Well we haven't seen quite the leadership that we need, um, throughout the entire County to really inform, uh, the nonprofit groups that are doing the work that, uh, that grant program would facilitate with their not communicating with them, I don't feel like, and they're not really pushing them to move up to um, apply for those grants. Speaker 3: 03:37 Person for San Diego county's public health department said the agency considered applying for the grants but opted not to because of restrictions on how the money could be spent. Speaker 2: 03:46 As soon as I took that first hit of marijuana, I knew I was an addict because it helped me, uh, with the struggle of losing my dad when I was a young kid. Speaker 3: 03:54 It's a little ironic that David Mancado, his path to addiction started with marijuana and now the legal pot industry is funding programs to help people like him stay off drugs. But non cotta is fine with it. Speaker 2: 04:07 The funding should be there. You know, once the people get into recovery and they get stabilized, third less likely to, uh, be, uh, offensive cause to get them incarcerated. Speaker 3: 04:17 Tune in tomorrow for a look at cannabis equity programs, which aimed to help disadvantaged populations share in the profits from legalized cannabis. Andrew Bowen and KPBS news. Each day. This week we'll be bringing you a new story about the impact of cannabis legislation to see all the stories in our series go to kpbs.org/pot.

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When California voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2016, they did so with the promise of new social and environmental programs funded by cannabis tax dollars. That promise remains largely unfulfilled in San Diego.
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