Sonoma County votes on Measure A, cannabis tax

It may come as a surprise to many students, but there is an election in Sonoma County today. The election consists of one question: Should the county adopt a tax on cannabis-related businesses?

Sonoma County has approved a set of rules and regulations to respond to a growing industry that has evolved from coming straight out of the ground to factories producing popcorn, gummy bears and drinks, all infused with various doses of marijuana.

It’s also in response to the passage ofProposition 64 in November,  legalizing the sale and use of recreational marijuana for individuals 21 years or older and establishing certain state taxes on the cultivation and sales of marijuana.

Sonoma County residents now face a vote on Measure A, which would establish a local tax to be paid by medical and non-medical cannabis businesses.

This measure, if approved, wouldimpose a tax on cannabis businesses of up to 10 percent of gross receipts. The tax, which would be levied on businesses in the unincorporated areas of the county, only needs a majority vote to pass

Under Measure A, large manufacturers as well as nurseries, distributors and dispensaries could be taxed at the 10 percent level, although the county has said it would start with the tax at 5 percent for manufacturers. 

There will be no tax at the outset for other cannabis-related businesses.

Smaller operators would instead be charged a cultivation tax of up to $10 per square foot for those who grow outdoors and a $38-per square foot tax forindoor cultivation areas. But the county has pledged to start the tax at less than half of these maximum rates.

Supporters of Measure A say the tax is necessary in order to address the negative impacts that come along with the cannabis industry.

Supervisor Shirlee Zane, the chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors, told The Press Democrat last week that she is “optimistic that voters will overwhelmingly support Measure A.”

She said the tax measure is needed to help pay for the permitting process the county is starting up that will allow cannabis businesses to obtain state licenses by the end of the year as scheduled. 

Without this tax, the permitting process will not move forward. “Permits are the pathway for the industry to become lawful,” said Zane, who represents Rohnert Park.

Nonetheless, some local cannabis groups, including the Sonoma County Growers Alliance, are opposing Measure A, arguing that the 10 percent cap on the tax is too high.

“Measure A was hastily put together by the county as a general tax to raise revenue for permits and for any other use the county sees fit,” wrote Ruby Steinbrecher, board chairwoman, and Tawnie Logan, executive director of the Growers Alliance, in an opinion piece in The Press Democrat on Sunday. “Ultimately, we decided that Measure A is not a viable way forward.”

All Sonoma County residents who are registered to vote are eligible to take part in today’s special election. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. For information, call the Sonoma County Registrar of Voters at 707-565-6800.