By Reggie Ellis
farmersville – Nearly every city in Tulare County has either passed a sales tax measure in the last few years or is considering one this year. But one Tulare County city may find its green in weeds instead of wallets.
During Council Reports at the Feb. 13 meeting of the Farmersville City Council, Councilmember Greg Gomez suggested the idea of placing a measure on the November ballot to allow and tax large marijuana grows and processing facilities within the city limits. Gomez said instead of taxing residents more when they go to the store why not explore the idea of heavily taxing an emerging industry rooted in a family industry – agriculture.
“I just wanted to broach the subject and get them thinking about it,” Gomez said. “We should take a good look at it and make an educated decision.”
The passage of Proposition 64 in November has opened the doors to a new and large revenue stream for California cities. In addition to legalizing recreation marijuana use for anyone 21 years and older, Prop. 64 also allows for local jurisdiction’s to set their own regulations and taxes on the production and sale of non-medical marijuana. A cultivation tax of $9.25 per ounce for flowers and $2.75 per ounce for leaves, with exceptions for certain medical marijuana sales and cultivation and 15 percent tax on the retail price of marijuana will take effect on Jan. 1, 2018. Taxes will be adjusted for inflation starting in 2020. But while 57% of Californians approved the statewide ballot measure, the same percentage (56%) of Tulare County voters opposed the initiative.
“We need to look at new revenue streams because people are buying more online and the gas tax is not as lucrative because cars are using less fuel and gas prices are low,” he said. “Personally, I think we owe it to the taxpayers to find out what they think we should do.”
Gomez said he doesn’t want to allow dispensaries to open in the city but does want to allow the commercial growing and processing of marijuana in Farmersville. He likened his vision of the facility to having a large citrus nursery in town. Gomez acknowledged that these types of facilities could be large targets for criminals, but said 24 hour security could be part of the stipulations required to operate a marijuana factory. Gomez said the city could also require that it be located in the industrial park on the west side of Farmersville Boulevard north of Walnut Avenue. He said the tax revenue generated by a marijuana growing or processing facility would allow the city to put more officers on the street, which would reduce crime overall and improve revenue for other needs.
“Once we have more money to spend on public safety, that will free up our general fund to beef up our public works department to improve our infrastructure,” Gomez said.
Gomez pointed out that other cities have already approved similar tax measures and have placed them on an upcoming ballot. In November, Coalinga voters approved a measure to tax commercial marijuana operations. The measure, an annual tax of $25 per square foot for marijuana grows was approved by 61% of voters in the rural Fresno County town. A companion measure to allow a dispensary to operate in the city limits also passed, but with a much slimmer margin of 53% of voters.
On Feb. 7, the Hanford City Council voted unanimously to have staff prepare a tax measure specifically on medical marijuana for the November 2018 ballot. The tax measure is projected to generate $14 million per year in tax revenue for the Kings County city. The city already has a company interested in running a large scale medical marijuana facility. Purple Heart Patient Care has proposed a processing facility in the former Pirelli Tire Factory. The sprawling 900,000 square foot complex is projected to employ more than 1,000 workers but has not yet been approved by the council as of press time. The decision came after several meetings over a few months on the topic of marijuana regulation.
Gomez said like Hanford, the Farmersville City Council should schedule an in-depth study session where the public can comment and the council and staff can present the pros and cons of a marijuana tax measure.