Money would help with law enforcement and drug-abuse education

Anticipating the passage of a ballot measure that would legalize the sale of recreational marijuana, the Cornelius City Council unanimously passed an ordinance placing a 10 percent tax on recreational marijuana and marijuana-infused products sold within its city limits.

At the special meeting Sept. 29, Cornelius joined other cities, including Hillsboro and Forest Grove, who have passed similar ordinances. “We know there’s a chance the ordinance may not hold up in light of language in Measure 91 that grants exclusive taxation rights to the state,” said Mayor Jef Dalin.

“It says, ‘No county or city of this state shall impose any fee or tax in connection with the sale, production, processing, transportation, and delivery of marijuana items.’ But our legal council pointed out the words, ‘shall impose’ in Section 42 of the measure could refer only to ordinances passed after the new law goes into effect,” he said.

As a precedent, Dalin pointed out the city’s battle with the state over a city-imposed gas tax in 2009. “The city passed a tax on gas sales before the state’s gas-tax legislation that contained similar language went into effect. The state took Cornelius and the city of Sisters to court, where the state lost — and then to the court of appeals where it lost again.”

City Manager Rob Drake said there is enough ambiguity in the measure that Oregon cities could prevail.

“The state hardly ever undoes anything the cities have done,” he said. “The ordinance would go into effect on October 29, and clearly states that any tax collected will be used to help meet the city’s needs for increased law enforcement and drug-abuse education programs only. We’re collecting 10 percent and giving a percentage back to the merchants to help defray their cost of bookkeeping and remittance.”

Only 20 percent of the revenue collected by the state would trickle down to Oregon cities. “We have no idea if our share of the pie will meet the city’s needs,” said Dalin. “That’s why we felt we needed to make sure we can take care of any additional costs caused by the sale and use of the drug.”

He added that if the tax turns out to be something the city doesn’t need, the council can certainly get rid of it. “We’ll be playing it by ear,” he said.

No residents attended the Sept. 29 special council meeting to speak for or against the ordinance. There was only one letter of concern sent by Libertarian Party state legislature candidates Kyle Markley and Caitlin Mitchel-Markley. The letter, titled “Joint Statement,” criticized additional government taxes, and said this ordinance “played into the worst stereotypes of money-grubbing.”

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