Opinion: taxing questions (and answers) about Measure CT

by Jim Belna

Why is it necessary to approve a cannabis tax now, when cannabis businesses are prohibited in Claremont?

It isn’t necessary at all. The city council should have waited until there is a specific proposal to legalize cannabis businesses in Claremont and allowed us to vote on legalization and taxation at the same time. The only people who benefit from this measure are consultants and lawyers who have already collected tens of thousands of dollars in city funds and will collect even more if Measure CT is approved.

It is also a power grab by the city council. They need us to pass this tax before they legalize cannabis sales on their own terms. If we are foolish enough to pass Measure CT now, the council can cut any deal they want with the cannabis industry — and we will be powerless to stop them.

What does the city council have in mind?

Remarkably, they have come right out and told us that they plan to collect $500,000 in cannabis taxes every year, which translates to more than $10 million in cannabis sales. These businesses won’t be small boutiques; they will be cannabis superstores with heavy traffic and even heavier security.

It would be insane to permit a $10 million cannabis operation in a small residential suburb like Claremont. We don’t even allow drive-thru windows at restaurants. Why would we ever consider allowing cannabis dealers to operate next to our parks and schools?

But don’t think for a moment that it can’t happen here. As we have learned with the Larkin Park development, everything is on the table with this city council. It’s a chance we can’t afford to take.

Are there any problems with the tax measure itself?

Mayor Jed Leano claims the city can immediately start collecting $150,000 per year by taxing cannabis deliveries to Claremont made by outside dealers; but Mr. Leano, who is a lawyer, apparently forgot to read the actual text of the law he is asking us to vote for. Measure CT specifically taxes the cultivation, testing, manufacturing, distribution, and retail sale of cannabis products. The one thing it doesn’t tax is the delivery of cannabis that was sold outside of the city.

The consultants who advised the council were unable to identify even one city in California that has ever collected a dime by taxing cannabis deliveries from outside dealers. Instead of making money on this tax, Claremont will lose thousands of dollars each year just to keep this unenforceable tax on the books.

What about medicinal cannabis?

Other cities, including Los Angeles, provide a cannabis tax exemption for medicinal products, which is the sane and compassionate thing to do. Claremont’s proposed law makes no distinction between medicinal and recreational cannabis, and taxes them at the same rate — as high as 7%.  That is reason enough for any decent person to vote against it.

Anything else?

As the dealers who make deliveries are not licensed here, the city intends to tax them by tracking down Claremont residents who are receiving cannabis deliveries. This will be a gross violation of our privacy rights, and possibly a HIPAA violation as well.

Any closing thoughts?

The status quo is working now. We have convenient access to licensed dealers minutes away in Pomona; we don’t have to deal with the health and safety challenges that large dealers will bring with them if they set up shop here; and we aren’t wasting tens of thousands of dollars (and collecting confidential information on residents) just to enforce a badly-flawed tax law.

Most importantly, we aren’t giving the city council a blank check to cut any deal they want with cannabis dealers. If we want to have a say about how and when cannabis sales will be legal in Claremont, we cannot approve Measure CT.

Claremont resident Jim Belna is a deputy district attorney in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, where he is responsible for the prosecution of cannabis tax evasion cases and other tax-related crimes. These comments are his own and are not made in his official capacity.

For a synopsis of Measure CT, check the city’s website ci.claremont.ca.us and search “Measure CT.”

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