COQUILLE — Coquille is the next Oregon city to put a tax on marijuana sales if Measure 91 makes it through the November election.
But the Coquille City Council took a stronger stance on the issue than have other cities in the past few weeks, unanimously voting for a 5 percent sales tax on medical marijuana and a 10 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana and marijuana-infused products. Coquille Mayor Matt Rowe emphasized throughout the meeting that the entire council was against marijuana in all forms.
"Despite the fact that this council voted unanimously for a moratorium (on medical marijuana dispensaries), we're not in support of legalizing recreational marijuana," Rowe said.
Measure 91 would legalize recreational marijuana in Oregon, removing penalties for people 21 and older who possess, use or grow small amounts. It would also tax marijuana and specifically prohibits cities and counties from enacting their own marijuana taxes.
But several cities, including Coquille, found a loophole: Since Measure 91 is not law at this moment, they can enact marijuana taxes now in hopes they will be grandfathered in if the ballot measure succeeds in the general election.
The tax is to protect the general public, Rowe said, by getting the police department more money in order to deal with the "unfunded burden" of legalized recreational marijuana. The facilities would "become targets for theft and robbery," he said.
Coquille resident Dian Courtright asked Rowe if he had any statistics to back up his claims or if he was just making assumptions. Rowe didn't provide evidence of increased crime in other towns with marijuana dispensaries. Councilor Dave Chappelle wasn't as worried about crime: "Even though (criminals) are not the brightest," they won't break into these facilities since there will likely be security systems in place.
David Jennings, of Coquille, said he used to work with juvenile and adult drug offenders.
"You are going to have some burden on your police department dealing with some legalized marijuana," Jennings said. "I don't think (the tax) is unreasonable, even though I realize taxes are unpopular."
Councilor Loran Wiese worried the new ordinance would be "an exercise in futility," since he wonders if the state will get all tax money despite individual municipalities' ordinances.
His concerns have echoed across the state, as many wonder if the state will swoop in and take tax dollars from cities who have enacted these ordinances. Jennings said those cities that don't pass a marijuana sales tax before the election will "lose out totally" if Measure 91 passes.
At the beginning of the meeting, Wiese said he was against taxing medical marijuana "because we don't tax other individual drugs in the city," though he voted in favor of the ordinance. The difference, Rowe said, is that the Federal Drug Administration does not deem medical marijuana a "medicine."
"If it's not medicine, what is it? Aspirin?" Wiese said.
Rowe said the tax rates were based off those other cities have adopted.
"I want to make it very clear: This is not an endorsement of legalizing marijuana," he said. "This is not an endorsement of wanting these potential facilities in our community."
View Oregon medical marijuana dispensaries in a full screen map