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Californians say "no" to legal pot but "yes" to pot taxes

California voters did not buy the argument that marijuana should be legalized and controlled like alcohol, but many agreed that it should be taxed like it. Voters in 10 cities around the state on Tuesday overwhemingly passed local measures to tax sales of medical and recreational pot.

Supporters of Proposition 19, the measure to legalize marijuana, had hoped the lure of new tax revenue in the midst of a severe economic crisis would out appeal to voters. It did, but not enough to persuade them to back the controversial initiative.

But proponents interpreted the thumbs-up on recreational pot taxes as an indicator of growing voter support for legalization. "We largely won the debate because they are ready to tax, control and regluate," said Dale Sky Jones, a spokesman for the campaign to pass the initiative.

Voters in several cities also demonstrated that most Californians are comfortable with marijuana used for medical reasons and sold at storefront dispensaries. In Santa Barbara and Morro Bay, voters rejected bans on pot stores, while in Berkeley, voters by a large margin approved a plan to allow six commercial marijuana factories in the city’s industrial zone.

With Proposition 19 failing, 54% to 46%, the 10 cities will not be able to approve recreational marijuana and tax it, but most will join Oakland in imposing taxes on medical marijuana sold in dispensaries. Long Beach had proposed the highest tax on legal marijuana at 15%, but several other cities had proposed 10% levies on it.

Last year, Oakland became the first city in the state to adopt a tax on medical marijuana. Voters passed it 80% to 20% and other cities took notice. On Tuesday, Oakland voted to raise its tax on the sales of medical marijuana to 5%. With Oakland’s four dispensaries on track to sell pot worth $40 million this year, city officials estimate that the new tax will bring in $2 million.

In addition to Oakland and Long Beach, the cities that approved pot tax measures were: Albany, Berkeley, La Puente, Rancho Cordova, Richmond, Sacramento, Stockton and San Jose.

-- John Hoeffel

 
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