Measure Y on Tuesday’s ballot for Merced residents is what some would call a no-brainer. No, that’s not a marijuana reference.
It’s a sober, rational analysis at what Measure Y – which enables the city to tax marijuana sales – does and what will happen if it doesn’t pass.
Basically, Measure Y authorizes the city of Merced to tax the sale of recreational marijuana by up to 10 percent. But it goes further, also laying out in detail various fees on retailers and commercial operations and, most importantly, how the money raised from the sales tax will be spent.
Before looking at how the money will be spent, consider what happens if the tax measure fails.
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First, the city won’t have incoming revenues to begin dealing with a number of issues certain to arise.
For instance, many people experiment with edible marijuana once it becomes available. Often, they eat too much and become scared when the impacts are extreme. Overdoses are not fatal, but many do result in calls to emergency services. Who pays for those?
Some people, stupidly, drive after using marijuana. Who pays for the devices to measure the new “breathalyzers” that measure a person’s level of intoxication? They’ll cost around $1,500 each, and every Merced patrol car will need one.
Will the district attorney’s office demand more resources to prosecute the crime of selling marijuana without a license?
And what about steering young people away from marijuana. Parks and recreation will need money for educational programs and activities to keep kids occupied. Being proactive is better than just saying “no.”
Without money from Measure Y, these costs will have to come from other areas of the Merced budget. And that could result in less money for other services – i.e., robbing the parking meters to pay the pot patrol.
What do you get if Measure Y passes? All proceeds from the sales tax will be spent exclusively on the three areas most impacted – law enforcement, medical response and education through the parks and recreation.
Each area will get 20 percent of total proceeds each year, with the council directing the remaining 40 percent to where it’s needed most among the three. One year, that might mean all of it goes to the police department for better equipment; another year the fire and parks departments could split it.
Measure Y allows a tax of up to 10 percent. But the city council is likely to start it much lower – even 3 or 4 percent – then gradually raise the tax as warranted. That allows the four licensed distributors to become established without undue competition from unlicensed sellers. As the black market dealers are, uh, weeded out, the tax could be raised.
How much money are we talking about?
The city figures about $1 million a year – which equals taxes on about 60,000 ounces. With no licensed competition within the county, that’s realistic. But it also could be a bit high, considering revenues have disappointed elsewhere.
“Our number of $1 million is fairly conservative,” said Mayor Mike Murphy. “We’re not trying to oversell this to the public. With Merced’s population and the fact there aren’t other dispensaries in our county, that $1 million seems like very realistic if not conservative.”
He’s probably right. Currently, all marijuana sales are cash. As the state establishes systems allowing sales through credit cards and smart phones, those numbers are likely to rise.
Measure Y requires a two-thirds vote to pass. We hope the number is much higher. If Measure Y fails, the costs associated with increased marijuana use will still have to be paid. And we’d rather marijuana users pay them through sales taxes than have everyone else paying them through lost services and higher fees.