All voters in San Diego County will be asked to weigh in on Measure A on their Nov. 8 ballots. It would tax cannabis businesses in unincorporated areas specified amounts, generating an estimated $2.9 million to $5.6 million a year. Here two essays argue either side of a measure that the San Diego County Board of Supervisors placed on the ballot.
Barnett is the former executive director of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association and president of TaxpayersAdvocate.org. He lives in Pacific Beach.
In 2016, San Diego County voters overwhelmingly legalized the sale and consumption of cannabis for adults under California Proposition 64. These voters helped create the opportunity for cities and the county of San Diego to develop procedures for permitting, inspection and enforcement of how many and where retail cannabis sites could be located. In addition, local government was given the ability to tax cannabis stores.
Unfortunately, while the city of San Diego and several cities in the region created processes for permitting, regulating and taxing legal cannabis dispensaries, until recently, the San Diego County of Board of Supervisors, for ideological and political reasons, refused to implement state and local voters’ wishes. Ironically, past board opposition to permitting legal cannabis stores resulted in scores of illegal pot shops opening, often near schools, parks and churches.
All voters in San Diego County will be asked to weigh in on Measure A on their Nov. 8 ballots. It would tax cannabis businesses in unincorporated areas specified amounts, generating an estimated $2.9 million to $5.6 million a year.
Between now and early October when voting gets underway, The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board is planning to publish dozens of candidate Q&As and nearly two dozen commentaries connected to a handful of San Diego city ballot measures and seven state propositions on the Nov. 8 election. Keep checking back as we fill in this voter guide.
Sheriff’s raids of these illegal facilities — in retail centers and residential neighborhoods — have uncovered drug dispensaries often run by organized crime and gangs. Law enforcement officers have seized pot laced with dangerous chemicals and automatic weapons, and uncovered money-laundering operations.
This unregulated environment forced local governments to divert tens of millions of law enforcement dollars from other law activities — such as firefighting, auto theft, robbery and violent crime — to investigate, stake out, raid and prosecute these criminal organizations. Instead of effective, planned and budgeted operations, local law enforcement has often been forced to play whack-a-mole in reacting to these illegal pot shops.
The election of 2020 resulted in the seating of a progressive board majority, led by Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who, along with Supervisors Terra Lawson-Remer and Nora Vargas, supported the permitting and placement of legal cannabis stores, with a clear community-based approval process. At the same time, newly elected East County Supervisor Joel Anderson has indicated his support of retail cannabis locations, but only after his board colleagues agreed to provide several million dollars annually for the Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Office to close down illegal pot shops and prosecute the criminal operators. Illegal pot shops, including ones in Spring Valley and Lakeside, were shuttered.
After years of dithering, the new San Diego County Board of Supervisors finally started taking a comprehensive approach to cannabis.
Measure A on the Nov. 8 ballot advances safe, regulated and legal adult cannabis dispensaries, promotes social equity and taxes the cannabis businesses. This tax will only impact the county’s unincorporated region — excluding the city of San Diego and the 17 other incorporated cities. To be clear, existing cannabis stores within any city in the region, including cities which already impose a tax (San Diego, Oceanside, La Mesa, Lemon Grove and Vista), will not be affected by these taxes.
Measure A tax is not a sales or use tax on cannabis users. The taxes will be paid solely by cannabis business owners, including retail businesses. It will not be charged directly to the consumer. And unlike sales taxes, which go to the state of California with a small portion returning to San Diego, Measure A’s tax revenues will stay within San Diego County, being deposited directly into the county’s general fund.
These general revenues proposed in Measure A can be used for parks, fighting fires, roads, homeless services and sheriff’s enforcement, and these new tax revenues will allow the Board of Supervisors to fully fund the permitting, regulation and inspection of legal cannabis stores.
And most importantly, there will finally be a steady funding source for law enforcement and prosecutors to shut down illegal pot shops, and to arrest and prosecute organized drug and gang operations.
Measure A is fiscally responsible. By imposing a tax on cannabis businesses, the county’s budget will be protected from any new costs associated with cannabis regulation, protecting resources for investment in our communities, public health and social equity programs.
Measure A is bipartisan. Urban progressive Democrats, joined by an East County conservative Republican, will allow for safe, regulated and legal adult cannabis markets in San Diego County. It is finally time to fulfill the will of state and San Diego County voters. Vote “yes” on Measure A.