If Deschutes County voters ban new recreational marijuana grows and businesses, one thing the county may lose is tax money to enforce marijuana laws.
How much? As much as $400,000 a year.
A cut of $400,000 could mean the county loses two sheriff's deputies who work on drug issues, a health educator at the county Health Department and money for county code enforcement. That's how the county uses the money now, according to County Administrator Tom Anderson.
The county will still have to regulate existing marijuana production and businesses but will likely get less money to do it. It's one reason why the opt out measure Deschutes County commissioners put on the ballot for 2020 may not be good for the county.
Just to be clear about an opt out vote, all voters in the county — including in the county's cities — would be able to vote. If voters opt out, the decision would only put a halt to new grows or businesses in the county — outside the county's cities.
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The state has distributed more than $206 million in marijuana tax revenue since 2017, according to state documents. It is distributed according to a formula. The bulk goes to the common school fund, 40%. Twenty percent goes to mental health, alcoholism and drug services, 15% to state police, 10% to cities for enforcement, 10% to counties for enforcement and 5% to Oregon Health Authority for alcohol and drug abuse prevention.
But if a city or county doesn't allow all types of marijuana licenses, a strict reading of the statute says they aren't eligible for tax dollars from sales. It's a similar case with cities or counties that don't allow wholesalers, retailers or production. Zero eligibility.
County commissioners know that. Commissioner Patti Adair has said she doesn't think it's fair. And she's right. Why if a county opted in and then later decided to opt out, would it suddenly get no revenue for existing pot operations? Commissioner Phil Henderson said if it comes to that point, the county will at least try to challenge that interpretation of the statute.
The November 2020 vote is a long way off. But the loss of the tax money is a worrisome wrinkle — no matter how you feel about an opt-out vote.
-- The Bulletin