When Oregonians vote in the November election, they’re likely to find a marijuana-related measure. Many cities and counties are asking voters if they want to add a 3 percent local tax to the state tax on recreational marijuana sales. Others, including Douglas County, currently prohibit marijuana sales. They’re asking voters if they want to allow pot dispensaries.
John Sajo is Director of the Umpqua Cannabis Association. He says right now both recreational and medical marijuana sales are illegal in Douglas County.
Sajo: “There’s 2 measures 10-143 and 10-144. They would allow the regulated cannabis industry to exist in the unincorporated parts of Douglas County and, importantly, if county voters don’t pass both measures than Douglas County will not get any tax revenue from marijuana.”
The State currently taxes recreational marijuana sales at a rate of 25 percent. Those sales are taking place at medical dispensaries for a limited time. When licensed pot shops open in July of 2017, the tax rate will be 17 – 20 percent. Statewide the pot taxes are divided, with 40 percent going to the common school fund, other portions go to mental health, state police and to counties and cities.
Sajo says if Douglas County voters reject the two marijuana measures it will be a disaster for Douglas County. Tax revenue will be distributed based on the number of business licenses per county. Sajo says if the measures pass, the county could benefit.
Sajo: “Douglas County, because we could potentially have a lot of marijuana farms, could get a significant percentage of that tax revenue so it could be millions of dollars for Douglas county. And in addition to that it could be thousands of jobs.”
Sajo says he’s concerned if the ballot measures don’t pass it will mean that marijuana continues to flourish in the black market. He says regulation is better than prohibition.
But, Dave Grammin has a different perspective. He’s a chaplain at the Douglas County Jail. He says he sees the negative aspects of drug addiction every day. He says the vast majority of crime has some relation to drugs. Grammin points to two studies—one is from The New England Journal of Medicine and looks at adverse health effects of Marijuana.
Grammin: “Marijuana is particularly harmful to children and youth under 21 years of age. And really, the biggest thing that comes out is with substantial adolescent use it really affects the learning and memory. And that can last for months, years and even be permanent.”
Grammin also refers to a study out of Colorado. Even though pot is not legal for minors there, pot use among youth has gone up. He fears drug addiction will become more of a problem in Douglas County if it’s more available there. He is doubtful that the tax revenue will be worth it.
Grammin: “Even though there’s regulation. Even though they say there’s going to be a lot of money made. It’s a small amount for Douglas County, to help benefit Douglas County and it increases the illegal activity of the drug.”
Douglas County is one of several in Oregon that has a prohibition on pot sales. Some of those counties, mainly in rural eastern Oregon, have not given voters the choice of whether to overturn those bans.