Exeter City Council talks pot revenue
By Paul Myers
exeter – Pot has been a smoking hot topic of discussion since last November’s election. Despite passing statewide, 56% of Tulare County voters made it known that they do not want marijuana in their communities. But now that it is legal, local governments are forced to decide what to do about it, especially in terms of commerce and enforcement. The Exeter City Council took up the item last Tuesday, Feb. 14. “It’s legal that’s number one. It’s going to happen…if we can generate some revenue then let’s do this, lets jump on the bandwagon,” stated councilman Gordon Gerdes.
As of 2018 recreational marijuana dispensaries will be allowed to apply for State licenses. But the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) or better known as Prop 64, hands a lot of control to local governments.
Currently the City of Exeter has to allow residents to grow up to six plants as long as it is in doors or in an enclosed greenhouse, and allow adults 21 years of age or older to consume marijuana. However, that does not extend to public consumption unless there is a City authorized place to do it. But even that is a gray area of enforcement. According to the Tulare County District Attorney, Tim Ward, it is illegal to smoke marijuana in public. Although, according to the City of Lindsay Public Safety Director, Chris Hughes, citizens are fully in their rights to smoke marijuana as long as there are no signs saying that they cannot.
Further convoluting the marijuana law is its conflict with federal law. Currently the federal government deems marijuana and consumption as illegal, and Exeter city attorney Julia Lew is left uncertain about federal enforcement.
“In the past the feds were disinclined to intervene, but that was under a different administration and we are yet to see what this administration is going to do,” stated Lew. “But I don’t think that Exeter California is at the top of their list.”
Lew added her professional opinion that federal law enforcement agencies will more than likely go after businesses than individual consumers. But nonetheless the council needs to define what they are willing or unwilling to tolerate when it comes to marijuana businesses opening in Exeter in 2018, if they want them there at all.
“I don’t know if I want dispensaries here in Exeter necessarily,” stated new councilmember Jeremy Petty.
Gerdes replied that the use of marijuana is now settled, so wanting it in Exeter or not is no longer a concern and if citizens are already going to have it then the City should stand to gain from it. Albeit unclear exactly how much revenue Exeter could gain.
“I don’t want little pot shops at every corner…but you don’t want to set the tax too high because then the black market comes back in,” stated longtime city council member Dale Sally.
Proposition 64 finds that the State imposes a 15% tax on marijuana and the local jurisdiction that it is in can add 10% more. As well, the City discussed increasing the costs of business licenses for dispensaries to gather additional revenue. Also, according to Chief of Police Cliff Bush the best way to handle dispensaries is with a middle of the road approach when it comes to city ordinances about them. That is in large part due to the uncertainty of enforcement. Because while the addition of recreational marijuana facilities may lead to increased sales tax revenue, there is little light shed on the additional resources public safety may have to dedicate throughout the city. Therefore the council requested a comparison of cities that currently allow medical and recreational marijuana.
“[This is about] what we can tolerate, and what we can generate, and what our costs might be in comparison to everybody else. That is the summary we need,” stated Sally.
According to Lew there are a lot of regulations that medical marijuana, and soon to be recreational marijuana facilities, need to follow. Lew stated that she has come into contact with CannaCan Help (CCH) in Goshen who allowed her on their property openly to observe their operations, but not every other dispensary is following the letter of the law and were not willing to let her through the door.