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News (Media Awareness Project) - US CA: Cloudy With A Chance Of Pitfalls
Title:US CA: Cloudy With A Chance Of Pitfalls
Published On:2012-02-02
Source:Sacramento News & Review (CA)
Fetched On:2012-02-03 06:02:32
CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF PITFALLS

Federal Crackdown Forces the City of Sacramento to Scale Back Its
Medical-Marijuana Tax-Revenue Projections

The forecast is getting pretty cloudy for tax revenues from the city
of Sacramento's Measure C medical-marijuana sales tax.

According to Brad Wasson, a city revenue manager, Sacramento was on
track to meet estimates of $1 million in revenue during its first
year. But that track has been targeted by U.S. Attorney Benjamin
Wagner, who has zeroed in on the city's medical-pot clubs for closure.

The city of Sacramento took in $552,000 over the first five months,
collecting a 4 percent sales tax on medical cannabis from about 39
dispensaries. In November 2010, voters approved the marijuana tax by
a massive margin of 71 percent, and it took effect July 1, 2011, the
beginning of the city's fiscal year.

Monthly revenue peaked in that first month at $152,000, and dropped
each month to $138,000, $131,000, $73,000, and just $58,000 in
November, that last month for which there is available data, Wasson said.

Part of the decline was anticipated to be seasonal, Wasson said.
Outdoor crops harvested in the fall lead to a glut in the black
market, and a slump in dispensary sales, he said. But numbers were
expected to pick back up.

Then, in October, Wagner publicly pilloried dispensaries, declaring
that all must close down. The city of Sacramento was in the process
of permitting some 39 clubs at the time, but many of clubs in the
city closed for good, Wasson said, while others closed and then reopened.

Two weeks ago, U.S. Attorney Wagner sought the forfeiture of a
property rented to Sacramento Holistic Healing Center, at 2014 10th
Street (see "Uncle Sam gets serious" by Nick Miller, SN&R The 420, January 19).

It was the first federal-seizure suit in the city, according to
Americans for Safe Access regional coordinator Courtney Sheats.
Another round of letters sent to landlords that threaten forfeiture
recently hit Sacramento city clubs within 1,000 feet of a school, as
well, of which there are "many," she said.

Measure C tax projections will likely have to be rounded down, too,
Wasson explained. "There's some weird stuff going on," he said.
"We're ahead of the million dollars [projection], but we'll probably
scale the projections back when we do our midyear report to the city
council at the end of this month."

"It's really hard. You can't do a standard analysis."

Some clubs, for instance, owe back taxes, he added. "We're trying to
sort out what's happening with dispensaries and legal actions and
court cases, so we haven't been real aggressive on business-tax
collections. There's still more work to do, and there could be some
money that comes in."

Sheats, who has been organizing weekly protests over the
medical-marijuana crackdown on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. outside of
the downtown federal courthouse, said the issue of lost tax revenue
will be null if clubs lose an ongoing fight for survival.

"If the Department of Justice does not allow the dispensaries to
operate, the city will lose those tax funds," she said.

Patient advocate and Sacramento resident Ryan Landers said about 20
clubs are left, and one club is closing each week, due to either a
direct threat from Wagner or landlord fears over crackdown news. He
estimates the city stands to lose its $1 million per year in taxes,
and Sacramento County obviously lost potentially $3 million a year,
assuming its dispensaries were taxed at the same rate as the city's
instead of being shut down.

In December, Sacramento County banned all dispensaries after spending
upward of $1 million on counsel and four additional code-enforcement
agents for the remainder of the fiscal year. Nearly all clubs in the
county are thought to be closed.

In addition to lost tax revenue, there are other ancillary costs to
the crackdown, Landers said, such as millions of dollars in lost
rents, as well as the loss of hundreds of well-paying jobs with
benefits and a subsequent loss in housing income.

"I think it's sad," he said. "I was glad to see the city being able
to keep departments open with that revenue."

The crackdown does nothing to stop supply or demand, he noted; it
merely deprives the community of revenue to which it's entitled, and
decreases safety for patients and residents.

He said Wagner's actions align with the Department of Justice's
recently disclosed efforts to arm cartels, launder their funds, and
protect favored gangs.

"Who are the beneficiaries of this? The black market and the cartels.
The price is going up, and people are going to cartels for their
weed," Landers said. "It makes you wonder."
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