Friday, February 19, 2010

Berkeley wants to tax medical marijuana

Berkeley is looking to medical marijuana as a way to raise badly needed
cash as it faces a $14 million budget shortfall this year and probably
more next year.

The city manager's office has floated a plan to tax the city's three
medical marijuana dispensaries $10 per square foot on space they occupy.

The tax would have to be put to a vote of Berkeley residents for
approval, most likely on the November ballot.

Medical marijuana dispensaries statewide already pay state sales taxes
on the marijuana they sell.

And in Berkeley the three dispensaries currently pay the city $20,000 a
year in business license fees based on sales, said City Finance Director
Robert Hicks.

Erik Miller, manager of the Patients Care Collective on Telegraph
Avenue, is vehemently opposed to another tax.

"I think it's arbitrary and ridiculous," Miller said. "Taxing sick
people's medicine is not the best way to make up their financial

Berkeley Patients Group, which currently operates out of a building on
San Pablo Avenue and has its eye on a 28,000-square-foot building on
Heinz Street, would pay the city $280,000 a year for use of that

Berkeley Patients Group did not have an immediate comment on the tax.
But judging by discussion at the city's Medical Cannabis Commission,
whose members are appointed by the three dispensaries, none of the
medical marijuana groups are in favor of it.

At its last meeting Jan. 28, the commission voted to "strongly oppose"
the proposed tax.

City Attorney Zach Cowan, who drafted language for the new tax, said
inspiration came from Oakland, whose voters approved a sales tax last
year on the city's medical marijuana dispensaries.

Oakland now taxes the dispensaries $18 for every $1,000 in sales.

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