Last year The Sun provided some perspective on the “Potconomy,” the coming of the legalization of marijuana. In that article, we noted that one pot dispensary in the City of Sebastopol contributes $250,000/yr. in sales taxes to that city’s coffers, and that the City of Sonoma was way behind the curve in coming to terms with the reality of marijuana sales.
Now that the voters have legalized the recreational use of marijuana in California, Sonoma risks falling even father behind. Many residents are already taking their hard-earned dollars out of the community, traveling to Santa Rosa or Sebastopol to fill their medical marijuana prescriptions. As legal recreational use and retail sales materialize, Sonoma will lose out even more unless it quickly addresses the need to fit legal marijuana into its zoning ordinance and regulatory framework.
The County of Sonoma is not sitting around waiting for the marijuana market to take off on its own; the county is proactively seeking to tax commercial pot sales, cultivation and associated activities in its unincorporated area to help insure that a sensible regulatory system has the funding it needs. We support that effort. The experience of Colorado has relevance; recreational pot, when legalized, quickly becomes a major industry throwing off many millions of dollars.
Ever since the 1920’s, America has been embroiled in a moralistic and legalistic quagmire about pot. Our moral judgment has always been clouded by American support for alcohol, a dangerous but highly popular drug which accounted for over $219-billion in sales in 2016. The same moral cloudiness obscures regulation of cigarettes, and for that matter prescription drugs of many varieties. One truth in the debate over legalizing marijuana is that it has historically been a convenient way for those in power to exercise control over “undesirables,” including ethnic minorities and the poor.
Pot use is no longer limited to a few marginal demographics, however, which is why well over 50% of California’s voters approved last year’s ballot proposition making recreational use legal. Accordingly, it’s no longer a matter of morality or law enforcement; cannabis is now a matter of public health and economics.
The proposed County of Sonoma tax on recreational marijuana realistically accepts this cultural and legal shift, and wisely makes plans to fund public health and regulatory resources through taxes.. None of us can fully anticipate just how large the “potconomy” in California will become, but the likelihood is that it will be enormous. An absence of planning means opportunities lost, opportunities to fund research, education and public safety. The City of Sonoma would do well to follow the County’s example, and set aside its long-standing morality-based judgments in favor of developing a pragmatic approach.
We applaud the County and recommend a YES vote on Measure A.
Sun Editorial Board