by David Downs
The State Board of Equalization already collects around $100 million per year in sales taxes from medical cannabis dispensaries in California. Now, the agency is laying the groundwork to collect an estimated $1.3 billion more. Legalization Nation has learned that the State Board of Equalization has convened an internal task force of about a dozen staff to research and provide options for taxing recreational use of marijuana, should it become legal. Board spokesperson Anita Gore confirmed the task force had been visiting East Bay clubs to learn more about implementing a consumer tax.
Proposition 19, a ballot measure to tax and regulate cannabis like alcohol, allows cities or counties to opt in or out of allowing sales. Cities and counties could also set a rate for taxing the product. But state sales tax would still apply under Prop 19, Gore said. The months-old task force is researching procedures for enforcing a state sales tax along the lines of the tobacco stamp system, in case Prop 19 passes. With Prop 19 polling at almost 50-50, the task force is just due diligence.
“We're often asked to quickly put together a set of options in terms of ways to implement a new tax,” Gore said.
San Francisco delivery dispensary owner Kevin Reed has previously told Legalization Nation that Board employees view California's medical cannabis industry as the new cash cow.
“They've told me, 'We think you are just like a tobacco or alcohol. You're the money source. We know where the money is. It's in marijuana today. We're broke.'”
California currently lacks a budget and is running an estimated $20 billion annual deficit. The governor has gone to China.
Oakland dispensary owner Richard Lee said the Board had been researching operations at his dispensary Coffeeshop Blue Sky, which does crisp daily business in eighths, quarters, and edibles like brownies in downtown Oakland.
California cannabis is an estimated $14 billion a year industry. While the Board of Equalization has said the state could make $1.4 billion a year taxing marijuana, other groups have different opinions on that estimate. An independent RAND Corporation study cautioned against predicting tax revenue, saying receipts could be several times higher than $1.4 billion due to exports, or significantly lower due to an ongoing black market.