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Santa Maria Sun / Commentary

The following article was posted on July 3rd, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 18 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 18

Rough sailing with legal pot

By Andy Caldwell

Measure T, approved by voters, will serve to tax marijuana operations located in the unincorporated areas of the county. The measure taxes every level of operations and the county hopes it will generate millions, if not tens of millions of dollars in revenue each and every year. As it stands right now, Santa Barbara County is poised to become the legal pot growing capital of the state. My prediction? Within a generation's time, we will certainly know why they call it the devil's weed.

One of my favorite sayings is, "The best place to hide a lie is between two truths." That is to say, I have no doubt there are some medicinal values from pot derivatives just as there are serious deleterious impacts from the same, including the onset of schizophrenia in some users. In that regard, I would never want to criminalize a patient's use of any product deemed beneficial by a bonafide medical doctor. So, when California legalized pot for medicinal uses, like most people, I was not all that concerned. However, what followed was an outrage. Doctors handed out prescriptions for pot to people who were not suffering from any ailment that was under any doctor's care. Instead, the prescriptions were given out as legal cover for recreational uses, making a mockery of the laws against recreational use.

Recently, voters approved the use of marijuana for all users and the state of California has given cities and counties the ability to either permit or deny recreational marijuana grows within the boundaries of their jurisdiction and tax the same if they can get the permission of voters. That means that voters in Santa Barbara County had to make a Sophie's choice about the devil's weed, a "Sophie's choice" being a choice where every alternative has significant negative consequences, which is why I could only recommend abstaining!

Now approved, Measure T, will allow the county to tax marijuana grows in the unincorporated areas of the county to help offset the impacts of the industry and regulate the same. There are benefits for having these grows in rural areas, especially as it concerns the odors emanating from the product. On the other hand, if the voters had rejected Measure T, the grows would have been forced to locate within the boundaries of those cities that have opted to allow the same.

The devil in the details about the county's proposal to roll out the red carpet for pot grows is cause for concern.  The county will require the growers to go through their normally torturous, expensive and time-consuming permit process, and then, they will have to pay an application fee, a license fee, and an annual license renewal fee, on top of the unique county and state taxes on the operations!

In anticipation of an obvious glut on the market, I believe the champagne wishes and caviar dreams having to do with a panga boat ride through a tunnel of love, loaded with cash emanating from this new industry, will simply become a different kind of marijuana bust for most participants. Perdition Falls, here we come!

In lieu of the drug cartels sending panga boats full of drugs to our shores, the county is planning on shipping boat loads of cash via their own panga operation to a nearby bank, now that they have found a bank that is willing to assume the risk of taking in the proceeds.

The county needed a new and separate bank account to facilitate their taking in the marijuana proceeds in the form of fees and taxes. Why? Because they feared the possibility that the feds could initiate an asset forfeiture case against the county for taking in monies associated with drug sales! That is, the Trump administration's Justice Department rescinded a letter, a virtual "get out-of-jail-free-card" that jurisdictions had been relying on since the days of the Obama administration. Obama issued the letter despite the fact that marijuana grows and consumption are still illegal per federal law.

In spite of the fact, the county has found a bank that will launder, er, I mean, take in the deposits from growers in accord with the permitting and taxing regimen the county has set up. As I stated at a hearing months ago, locating a bank willing to take in proceeds from drug sales doesn't guarantee the feds will relent. Moreover, the county plans on spending the money as soon as the deposits clear! Accordingly, if prosecution ensues, the county would nonetheless be on the hook to pay any fees and fines from their regular accounts, something they wish to avoid altogether. Why?

Because any such asset seizure would affect all the jurisdictions the county collects tax proceeds for, including local school districts!

Unless the Trump administration signs legislation pending in Congress, all the proceeds associated with marijuana can still be confiscated via our nation's drug asset forfeiture laws. The county would be wise to not spend a dime, unless and until, the Trump administration gives the all-clear signal. Otherwise, the county could end up having to dip into reserves in order to satisfy the demands of the feds should they initiate prosecution. How much money are we talking about?

The county plans to reap a windfall of tens of millions of dollars from these operations over time. They plan on hiring or dedicating staff from the CEO's office, the Sheriff's department, the AG Commissioner's office, Environmental Health, the Fire Department, and the Tax Collector's office, not to mention the staff from Planning and Development. The county plans to spend a couple of million dollars a year permitting the operations in addition to monitoring and enforcing the laws via fees collected, along with receiving millions more per the tax proceeds relative to Measure T. Their plan leaves the public hanging, on their own, from the deleterious mental health and social impacts of recreational pot, but that is a commentary for another day.

 

Andy Caldwell is the executive director of COLAB and hosts The Andy Caldwell Show on KUHL AM1440. This column was first published in the Santa Barbara News-Press. Send your thoughts to letters@santamariasun.com.




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