Kevin Valine

City starts discussion on how to regulate marijuana

Modesto’s elected officials want to know more about allowing marijuana businesses in the city and raising money through a sales tax on the drug.

The City Council on Tuesday had a workshop to discuss what Modesto’s response should be to California voters approving Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, in November. The act allows for the personal use of marijuana by adults 21 and older. Adults can have as much as an ounce or 28.5 grams of marijuana and 8 grams of concentrated cannabis.

And as many as six plants can be grown in a private residence, though that can be subject to local regulations. Modesto will look at regulations to protect its housing stock. The city currently bans outdoor cultivation.

The act also allows for commercial activities, including cultivation, manufacturing and distribution as well as retail sales. But the commercial activities won’t be legal without a state license. California expects to issue licenses by January 2018, but local governments can ban or regulate commercial activities.

The state will impose a 15 percent excise tax on the purchase of medical and nonmedical marijuana beginning Jan. 1, 2018. Local governments also can impose a sales tax, though not on medical marijuana, which California voters approved in 1996. Council members indicated they wanted to learn more about a marijuana sales tax.

The city’s voters would have to approve the tax. It could be a general tax, which requires a simple majority to pass and can be used for any general government purpose, or a special tax, which requires two-thirds voter approval and can only be used for its designated purpose.

Police Chief Galen Carroll indicated that an outright ban of commercial activities probably would not work.

“If we have a ban,” he told council members, “we still need to be able to enforce the ban. What kind of ban is it if we cannot enforce it?”

Modesto faces another wrinkle. Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors Chairman Vito Chiesa would like to see a global response among the county and its nine cities to deal with Proposition 64. That could include uniform regulations and a countywide tax on the November ballot. The proceeds of the tax would be divided proportionately among the county and cities to deal with the effects of legal marijuana.

Officials from the county and all of the cities met Tuesday to discuss Proposition 64. Councilman Doug Ridenour was among those officials.

“I believe working with the other cities and the county is our best approach,” he said.

Ridenour, a retired police sergeant, said making marijuana legal will worsen the drug problem. He said taxing the drug will not solve all of the city’s money problems, and he questioned the morality of raising money from a drug.

“But the reality is, it’s the law,” he said after the meeting. “It’s legal. We have to deal with it.”

Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316