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Gresham council approves marijuana taxes

It's uncertain if the city's taxes will be allowed under the new state law

The Gresham City Council voted in a 4-2 decision Tuesday evening to impose taxes on marijuana sold within city limits.

The tax is technically effective immediately but wouldn’t begin in practice until a Gresham business began to sell marijuana. The city council had previously passed a moratorium on medical marijuana until May 2015 that is still in effect. In the wake of the statewide Measure 91 passed last month, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission is anticipated to allow licenses for recreational marijuana sales starting in January 2016.

The new Gresham tax would collect 10 percent on sales of recreational marijuana and 5 percent of medical marijuana sales.

Councilors Michael McCormick and Jerry Hinton were the two no votes on the council; both wanted a higher tax rate.

Hinton spoke strongly against legalization of marijuana, “a gateway and dangerous drug in the community.”

Hinton said his primary goal is the safety of families in Gresham.

“Where do you draw the line? Where do you say enough is enough?” Hinton said, describing a slippery slope to legalizing brothels and methamphetamines. “I believe this is contrary to that premise — the premise that we operate to create a family-friendly community.”

The business-friendly councilor said this was one of the few instances in which he would approve of a strategy of “destroy by taxation.”

McCormick counter-proposed a rate of 20 percent for recreational and 10 percent for medical, but the council nevertheless approved half of those rates.

Councilor Kirk French claimed that the rate of taxation on tobacco cigarettes — “we’re talking smoke versus smoke here” — is 25 percent, but nevertheless voted for the lower rates.

Council President Lori Stegmann said such high rates compared to other nearby communities — Portland approved a 10 percent tax on recreational marijuana only in October — would drive the Gresham market away or back to the black market.

“Honestly. I’ve got a 16-year-old daughter. People have access to marijuana now,” Stegmann said.

Councilor Mario Palmero agreed that a high tax rate would drive the market underground and ultimately make for a less-safe community. Palmero added that he would want to see the marijuana tax money earmarked for a community center.

Meanwhile, lawyers around the state are debating whether the proliferation of local taxes on marijuana are legal. Measure 91 allows municipalities to govern where, when and how marijuana can be sold but supporters of the new law say only the statewide taxes approved in the measure can be imposed.

Read more in Friday's Gresham Outlook.

By Shasta Kearns Moore
email: shasta@portlandtribune.com
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