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County moves toward marijuana tax

If approved, 3-percent tax on sales for recreational use would be tacked onto state's 17-percent levy

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Clackamas County will ask voters in November to approve a tax on marijuana sales.Clackamas County voters will be asked to approve a 3-percent local tax in November on retail sales of marijuana for recreational use.

County commissioners started the process of referring the tax to the Nov. 8 ballot last week after they approved several steps to beef up enforcement against marijuana-related violations of zoning and development regulations.

“This commission has said we want teeth in this, so let’s put some teeth into it,” Commissioner Tootie Smith said.

Commissioners already adopted broader changes in zoning and development ordinances — covering both medical and recreational marijuana — which took effect at the start of this year, but they had asked planning staff and county lawyers for ways to step up enforcement.

According to a staff report, the county has handled 20 marijuana-related zoning cases as of May 4; 12 are pending, five are verified, two are near resolution and one has been resolved. The zoning code sets out where growing and processing can occur outside city limits, and establishes requirements for setbacks, lighting, and noise and odor control.

The proposed 3-percent local tax will be on top of a 17-percent state tax already approved by the Legislature. If county voters approve the local tax, both would take effect Jan. 1 and replace a 25-percent temporary tax on recreational-use sales by medical-marijuana dispensaries.

Counties and cities are allowed by law to impose a 3-percent tax if voters approve it.

Commissioners have yet to discuss how to spend proceeds from the local tax. That discussion would precede any resolution by the commissioners to refer a local tax to the Nov. 8 ballot.

Clackamas County also would share in proceeds from the state tax, which was included in a ballot measure that Oregon voters approved in 2014 when they legalized marijuana for recreational use. Of the state proceeds, 10 percent will go to cities and 10 percent will go to counties for law enforcement.

However, counties and cities that opt out of retail marijuana sales will not share any of the state tax money.

Seven Clackamas County cities — Gladstone, Happy Valley, Lake Oswego, Oregon City, Sandy, West Linn and Wilsonville — have chosen to opt out, although their decisions are subject to voter approval on Nov. 8.

Enforcement action

County commissioners took the initial step toward a local tax after approving several steps aimed at increasing penalties for marijuana-related zoning violations. Among them are a maximum civil penalty of $5,000 per day — the current maximum for any zoning violation is $3,500 per day — and separate amounts of $1,000 for a first violation, $5,000 for a second violation and $10,000 for a third violation. The usual amount for a first violation is $500.

Those changes are likely to require an amendment to the zoning code.

Although marijuana producers and processors must get land-use clearances from counties and cities, licenses are issued by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission for recreational operations and the Oregon Health Authority for medical marijuana operations.

Licenses do not apply to households, which can grow four plants. Medical-marijuana cardholders and caregivers also are subject to different state limits on plants.

“I think we are going to revisit this issue a lot,” Chairman John Ludlow said.

Among the other steps approved by commissioners:

-- Coordinate with other agencies, including the county sheriff and the Oregon State Police;

-- Initiate an investigation by the county’s code enforcement employees upon receipt of one confidential complaint, instead of waiting for two complaints;

-- Require other county employees to report apparent zoning violations they see as they perform their normal duties, although action would be left to code enforcement; and

-- Make it easier for the county to collect for violations and civil penalties.

Contact Peter Wong at 503- 580-0266 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..