Voters pass pot tax, reject casino
on November 3, 2010
Richmond voters on Tuesday chose to levy a five percent tax on the city’s medical marijuana dispensaries, and expressed displeasure about a proposed casino development at Point Molate.
The casino referendum, Measure U, asked residents to weigh in on whether the city should support the proposal from the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians to build a tribal casino at Point Molate. While the referendum is an advisory measure, Tuesday’s results reflect the progressive trend that re-elected Green Party Mayor Gayle McLaughlin to a second term and put Jovanka Beckles and Corky Boozé on the City Council.
“We do want development at Point Molate,” Boozé said, “but we want it without a casino. We can do better than just a casino.”
Defeated mayoral candidate John Ziesenhenne was disappointed by the voters’ decision to elect officials who were “anti-business.”
“It looks like people who were elected have a different agenda for Richmond than the direction it has been going,” he said. “I’m worried for business in Richmond.”
The measure raised opposition from groups like Citizens for a Sustainable Point Molate and the Richmond Progressive Alliance. Business groups and developers support the casino. Interest groups on each side spent about a half-million dollars to drum up support, even though the vote is symbolic.
Developer Jim Levine commented on the measure’s lack of weight. “It doesn’t really matter in the end,” he said as results came in. “The matter is going to have to be settled by the city council.” Levine is hoping that the city will allow him to begin development before the federal government makes a decision about whether to place the land in trust for the tribe.
The proposal has so far divided the City Council. But with the election of casino opponents Boozé and Beckles, the new members reflect a different perspective. The city is currently waiting for recommendations culled from a series of community meetings on alternatives to the casino plan.
With the passage of Measure V, voters authorized the city to tax the income of medical marijuana dispensaries, capitalizing on the multi-million dollar medical pot industry. Oakland and Berkeley have already imposed a similar tax.
Revenue raised by the pot tax will go toward municipal services like fire and police departments, which have suffered from statewide budget cuts.
The city ordinance currently allows up to three medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in Richmond; Measure V does not expand that. The city’s income, then, will be limited by the amount of pot patients are able to purchase legally at the existing three dispensaries.
Measure V might have raised significantly more revenue had voters approved Proposition 19, a statewide measure that would have legalized a limited amount of pot use and cultivation.
Prop. 19 was the latest indicator of a statewide shift toward the decriminalization of marijuana. According to The Field Poll, a California research firm, support to legalize pot has grown in the past forty years from 13 percent to half of California voters. After the state’s voters legalized medical marijuana with the 1996 Proposition 215, the regulation of pot cultivation and sales was left to local jurisdictions.
But so far only 36 California cities have passed ordinances to allow medical marijuana dispensaries. The cannabis advocacy organization, Americans for Safe Access, says more than 240 cities have either banned the dispensaries or passed a moratorium.
Despite the shift in voter support for legalizing pot, Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo predicted Prop 19’s downfall. “This thing doesn’t look likely to pass,” DiCamillo told a small group at UC Berkeley on Monday, citing dispirited Democrats and a lack of engagement by young voters.
The measure passed in Richmond will require that all medical marijuana businesses pay a tax of five percent on their gross receipts, in addition to the city’s business license fee of $234.10 a year. Pot dispensaries would also pay an additional $46.80 per employee for the first twenty-five employees, and $40.10 for each employee after that.
Ballot Measure M failed to garner the two-thirds majority needed to pass. The parcel tax would have charged property owners in the West Contra Costa Unified School District an additional 7.2 cents per square foot for the next five years to raise funds for education.
Just last June, voters narrowly approved a $380 million bond measure that’s funding a seismic retrofit and technology overhaul in Richmond public schools. Measure M would have generated $10 million a year to lower class sizes, improve arts programs,and keep good teachers in West Contra Costa classrooms.
The final vote was 60 percent in favor to 40 percent opposed, short of the necessary two-thirds to pass a tax.
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