Friday, May 1, 2009

Is Mendocino County About To Tax Marijuana

By Michael O'Faolain

Perhaps embracing the national general discussion on the wasteful War
on Drugs, marijuana, and the need for tax revenue, on Monday the
Mendocino County Board of Supervisors took up a "zip tie" proposal at
a special meeting but put off action until May 5.

In Mendocino County the traditional start of the marijuana outdoor
growing season begins in April. Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman
is reprising a program tested in 2007 - medical marijuana zip ties.
Allman's office distributed 1,500 test zip ties in 2007 test.

Under the new proposal the zip ties would be sold by the Public
Health Department in order to assure compliance with the privacy
provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act

Applicants would be required to present their California Medical
Marijuana Card. They will be issued six zip ties unless their doctor
recommends more. Allman is proposing that the charge be $25 per tie
with a 50% discount for Medicare patients. The ties would be wrapped
around the base of the plant and would be imprinted with "Mendocino
County MMP" and a serial number.

In an interview with Ukiah Daily Journal reporter Rob Burgess, Allman
said: "A zip tie acts like a prescription bottle. Whereas before
deputies would spend three hours investigating a marijuana garden,
now they'll be able to do that in five minutes. Before legal patients
were concerned that, What if I'm gone? Will the cops take my
marijuana?' With this they don't have to worry about that. This
serial number will speak for them. This is the identification mark
for this."

Allman said they would be monitoring for counterfeit ties. While some
see this as a taxation program, in fact the proposal is that half the
money collected would go to fund a half-time employee in the Public
Health Department and half would go to the County General Fund which
does support the Sheriff's Office.

The goal is to begin to create a clearly separate identity for legal
growing in order to identify illegal commercial growing.

The commercial growing of marijuana has become an identifiable
problem for law enforcement in California's North Coast. In
discussions with a member of the cooperative drug enforcement task
force of federal, state, and local personnel, this writer learned
that in the past few years' raids of several large gardens in
National Forests and other state and local forest lands have resulted
in the arrest of Mexican citizens with apparent ties to the infamous
Mexican drug cartel.

In 2000 Mendocino County voters approved Measure G, which called for
the decriminalization of marijuana when used and cultivated for
personal use, making it the first county in the nation to do so. In
2008 County voters approved Measure B, which repealed portions of
Measure G making local regulations conform to state law implementing
the provisions of the statewide voter approved Compassionate Use Act
of 1996 (Proposition 215).

Under guidelines issued by the California Attorney General's office,
persons who have qualified as patients or primary caregivers may grow
no more than six mature or twelve immature plants per patient.
Counties and cities are allowed regulations that would permit
qualified persons to possess more.

The narrow passage of Measure B was not a rejection of the concept of
decriminalization of marijuana. The most significant problem while
Measure G was in effect was that gardens within urban and suburban
neighborhoods gave off fumes and odor from growing plants.

This writer can speak from personal experience that at certain times
during growing season, his yard became unusable because a neighbor's
garden gave off fumes so strong that your eyes and sinuses would
burn. And the odor is not similar to the not-so-offensive smell of
smoking marijuana as it is like living adjacent to a chemical
processing plant. This is a land use issue, which, if marijuana were
legalized, could be regulated by zoning in a manner that all
commercial agriculture is regulated.

Given the general discussion around the nation about
legalization/taxation of marijuana, it is not a surprise that some
outside Mendocino County believe this is an attempt to tax the large
annual marijuana crop grown within the County. While the zip tie
proposal certainly creates a system of fees that theoretically could
expand to a significant revenue producing mechanism much like the
"tax stamps" placed on liquor bottles, at this point in time it only
applies to medical marijuana growing for patients who live in
Mendocino County. No significant revenue is represented by the

However, one cannot ignore the "winds of change" within the state.
The San Francisco Chronicle Political Writer Carla Marinucci recently
reported that for the first time the since EMC Research began
tracking attitudes about legalization of marijuana a clear majority
of voters say marijuana use should be generally legalized with 54% in
favor and 39% against.

Prominent conservatives and liberals have long advocated legalization
of marijuana as part of a change in the approach to the war on drugs.
Even Fox News' weird right-wing talking head Glenn Beck blurted out
on February 25: "...Look, I'm a libertarian. You want to legalize
marijuana; you want to legalize drugs - that's fine."

But Monday's Mendocino County Supervisors' discussion was much more
mundane. It was about procedures and processes to help law
enforcement distinguish between lawful medical marijuana plants and
illegal plants. And as one might expect, the draft ordinance was
introduced by a vote of 3 to 2, but sent back to County Counsel for
further revision.

A tax measure it is not, though it likely would generate enough
revenue to fund personnel to administer the rules. As Allman noted:
"Three years ago when we first offered this some of the other
sheriff's snickered, But now, zip ties are going to be something
other counties are going to look at. If this is successful, other
counties could view this as a model."

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