If California voters want to legalize it, Larry Robinson wants to tax it.
The Sebastopol councilman is asking his fellow city leaders to consider ways to tax marijuana sales if California voters approve a measure on the November ballot that would legalize pot.
The council is scheduled to discuss the idea at its meeting Tuesday night, joining a growing number of cities intrigued by the bottom-line benefits of taxing marijuana.
Robinson said he's not asking the council to take a stance on legalizing recreational use of cannabis. He just wants the city to position itself to move quickly if voters approve the November ballot measure, which would allow adults to possess and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana.
"It's just recognizing that there's a relatively good chance that this initiative will pass," Robinson said. "I just want the city of Sebastopol to be in the best possible position to both regulate and tax it."
Robinson is proposing to place a measure before Sebastopol voters in November that would authorize the city to tax marijuana sales. The council must vote on the concept by August to make the ballot.
Robinson said he envisions a 1 percent to 2 percent local tax on all marijuana sales, both on existing sales of medical marijuana and potential future sales of pot for recreational use.
Rich Maloney, who purchases medical marijuana at the only cannabis dispensary in Sebastopol, Peace in Medicine Healing Center, said he would be willing to pay more if pot was taxed by local government. The state already taxes sales of medical marijuana.
He credits cannabis for getting him off a host of narcotics that he began taking after breaking his leg in a motorcycle accident a year and a half ago.
Robert Jacob, executive director of Peace in Medicine, which soon plans to open another clinic in Sebastopol, said he also welcomes paying more taxes.
The more the nonprofit business contributes to the community, the more people see it as a local asset, he said.
"Taxation provides legitimacy," he said.
Jacob, however, would only support the tax if Sonoma County adopts a similar policy. Otherwise Peace in Medicine would lose its ability to draw clients, he said.
Already, the clinic has to compete with dispensaries that have arisen since a Superior Court judge struck down Sonoma County's marijuana dispensary ordinance last December. The ruling is under appeal.
Sonoma County Supervisor Mike Kerns said he doesn't see the county taking on marijuana taxes in the near future. It's premature to act before state voters decide on the matter — and before the appeals case on the county's dispensary ordinance is settled, he said.
As a former cop, Kerns also has concerns about legalizing a "gateway drug" that could lead to more problems.
Still other local leaders are more open to the idea. Santa Rosa City Councilman Gary Wysocky said he would be interested in looking at marijuana businesses as part of an overhaul of business license fees or in addition to other "sin taxes."
"If it was legal, it should be taxed just like alcohol and tobacco," he said.
Other cities have already cashed in from marijuana sales. Last year, Oakland became first U.S. city to impose a local tax on medical marijuana dispensaries.
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