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St. Helens, Columbia City adopt marijuana tax

City moves on marijuana tax on hope it will be 'grandfathered' should statewide legalization occur

The St. Helens City Council voted to approve an ordinance taxing legal marijuana sales, in anticipation of the potential passage of Ballot Measure 91 next month, on Wednesday, Oct. 15, followed suit by the City Council of Columbia City the following day.

The cities' move to tax marijuana, which the passage of Measure 91 would legalize in Oregon, comes after the Scappoose City Council adopted a similar ordinance last month. Both St. Helens and Columbia City patterned their tax rates — 10 percent on sales of marijuana products to customers with Oregon medical marijuana cards, and 20 percent to marijuana sales to all other buyers, to be paid to the city by sellers on a quarterly basis — on the rates in Scappoose.

St. Helens City Councilor Susan Conn said during Wednesday’s vote that she has reservations about taxing medical marijuana, but she voted in favor of the ordinance, noting that the City Council can later revisit the tax.

Cities and counties across Oregon have been scrambling to adopt taxes on marijuana sales before voters have their say on Measure 91. The measure would give sole authority to the state to place taxes on marijuana, similar to taxes on alcohol, cigarettes and gasoline. Recent polling suggests it is likely to pass.

But local officials are hoping that taxes adopted before the election will be grandfathered into the law, giving municipalities a way to both discourage marijuana retailers and dispensaries from setting up shop and to bring in revenue from any businesses that do open.

Columbia County has not yet moved toward establishing its own tax on marijuana sales.

Both the county and local cities passed moratoriums earlier this year blocking medical marijuana dispensaries from opening before May 2015.

Marijuana is legal in neighboring Cowlitz County, Wash., where several marijuana retailers set up shop over the summer. It remains illegal in Oregon for recreational use, however, and is classified by the federal government as a controlled substance with no medicinal value.

Oregon is one of a number of states that have approved marijuana for medical use.

Portland, the state’s largest city, approved an ordinance Wednesday taxing recreational marijuana sales at 10 percent but rejected a proposed 5 percent tax on medical marijuana sales.

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