We always knew why five of the seven Oroville City Council members wanted to legalize marijuana sales in the city, but it was never explicitly explained until a council meeting on Tuesday.
It’s not because they see marijuana as a wonder herb, unfairly demonized. It’s not because they believe a majority of residents voted for legalization, and thus it’s the right thing to do. It’s not because there’s a libertarian bent to the council and they believe the government has no right to deny citizens a legal substance.
No, it’s because the city government needs the tax money.
That justification is usually the worst reason for government to do something. It’s why we get things like monopolies for utilities and garbage companies, ever-rising gas taxes and vehicle license fees, utility taxes, high fees on new homes and eminent domain abuses.
This is more serious business, though.
The council has been laying the groundwork for marijuana sales in the city. Oroville will be one of the few cities with dispensaries in the north state so the stores will attract customers from a wide area.
If Oroville was using the tax money to beef up the understaffed police force, that would be one thing. But there are no such assurances. Instead, the tax on marijuana sales would help plug a budget hole. The word “bankruptcy” has been tossed around.
The council put the marijuana tax — but not the question of marijuana sales itself — on the November ballot. It’s likely voters will approve that, because they’re going to get cannabiz with or without the tax.
In an odd bit of timing, the council also voted to put another local tax measure on the November ballot. It’s a proposed 1 percent sales tax increase. A similar measure failed last year.
Councilor Scott Thomson said if the city was going to enact new taxes, it should consider repealing the utility users tax. Councilor Linda Draper countered they would be “complete idiots” to eliminate something that raises about $1.8 million annually for city government.
The ensuing discussion made it clear — marijuana sales are all about the money.
Councilor Marlene Del Rosario told the audience at Tuesday’s meeting to come up with better ideas to fix the budget problem or stop criticizing.
“Don’t just say there are other ways. Tell us what they are,” she said. “Stop berating us for trying to do something for the city, please.”
OK, but that begs a larger question: What is it doing for the city?
No money from either tax has been earmarked for the Police Department, only the general fund. The council will have a tough time convincing residents to support new taxes and marijuana sales if increased public safety isn’t part of the promise.
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