Does San Joaquin County have a future as a commercial marijuana Mecca? We’ll find out when the Nov. 6 election results are in.
Measure B essentially legalizes the commercial growing of marijuana for either medical or adult recreational use at indoor facilities in the unincorporated parts of San Joaquin County.
To entice enough voters to give the plan a two thirds vote it needs to pass, proponents attached a 3.5 to 8 percent tax on gross receipts plus a $2 per square foot tax on cultivation space.
The assumption is this will generate $2.3 million in annual taxes based on the County ultimately having nine non-cultivation and 11 cultivation sites. The money would be split the first year with 30 percent going to youth and public health programs and 70 percent to cannabis enforcement. By the fifth year the taxes would be split 50-50.
Before you embrace this as a mellow way to bring marijuana cultivation on a commercial scale into San Joaquin County that will generate $1.15 million for youth programs by the time 2023 rolls around, you might want to check on how well tax receipts are flowing into Sacramento from “legal” marijuana sales compared to what voters were told to expect if they helped legalize adult recreational use.
They are lagging about 33 percent behind original projections. That in itself may not be enough to give you pause considering the state bureaucracy, that specializes in producing regulations that are a tangled mess, has been slow in getting its act together.
That’s only half the problem. As of May, the California Bureau of Cannabis Control had issued only 400 licenses for the legal selling of pot. Another 900 unlicensed shops were told to cease and desist.
Those shops weren’t collecting taxes and they were charging a lot less. That prompted several legislators to suggest “temporarily” lowering the pot taxes voters approved.
Why it matters is that it illustrates how a black market is emerging that could rival what was going on when all marijuana use in California was illegal.
That black market will not be supplied by legitimate cultivation businesses in the unincorporated area of San Joaquin County but by illegal grows. And those illegal grows won’t be in agricultural-industrial style buildings but in the old-fashioned way meaning the McMansion next door to you could be gutted as a get rich scheme to meet black market demand. In many cases, converting single family homes to pot greenhouses have supplied legitimate storefront pot operations. That’s what happened after medical pot was legalized and law enforcement busted several McMansion operations in Lathrop supplying Bay Area medical pot operations.
The problem isn’t the legal commercial growers. It’s the black market.
Just look to the east to neighboring Calaveras County. In 2017 enraged voters turned out the Board of Supervisors majority that approved the legal growing of medical pot commercially two years earlier and implemented an outright ban. That $10 million Calaveras County was collecting annually in fees and taxes from licensed growers was dwarfed by what was estimated to be $1.2 billion worth of environmental damage that taxpayers would be on the hook for mostly from illegal growers that used Calaveras’ legal growers as a cover.
Not only did the county lack the resources to effectively monitor pot grows — legal and otherwise — just like the State of California, but they also could not get a handle on criminal activity surrounding the uptick in illegal grows the county attracted whether it was violence or intimidation of neighboring property owners.
Why would San Joaquin County — uniquely situated to supply in excess of 17 million potentially pot users mostly in urbanized area — want to fall down the rabbit’s hole that Calaveras County did? In an ideal world, people using pot would grow their own.
There is little doubt that medical pot helps people in pain and who are ill. At the same time there are potentially harmful consequences of recreational use whether it is from slower reflex times which is why a lot of places won’t hire you to work around machinery or drive trucks if you test positive to other more serious issues that haven’t been 100 percent scientifically vetted. Measure B is not about whether pot is less harmful than alcohol and other drugs including other the counter as well as prescription. It is about what it would do to San Joaquin County including the ancillary impact of emboldening the shadow marijuana economy.
If the Board of Supervisors majority that put Measure B on the ballot want to welcome commercial pot grows to generate tax dollars, why not covert the old courthouse the county owns in downtown Stockton into high rise grow condos for legitimate growers?
Law enforcement could keep an eye on them and they could even open a ground-floor commercial sales operation just off Weber Avenue. It would also be close to county tax collectors.
It would be a win-win for the county. Commercial pot grower tenants could repurpose the building that is virtually cost prohibitive for the county to remodel or tear down.
And what’s there not to like? Proponents have glossed over environmental concerns, potential criminal activity from people who might try to steal what’s being grown so they can sell it on the black market, odor issues, and just about anything else except the greenbacks they see.
Since they see commercial grown pot as being futuristic for San Joaquin County, why not locate the legal grows midway between the new 13-story courthouse and the county administrative center?
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.