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Scappoose votes to double proposed tax on marijuana

Two weeks after approving a tax on any marijuana products sold in Scappoose, city councilors voted to double that tax amount, should marijuana become legal to sell in the city.

The revised vote came at the suggestion of Councilor Jason Meshell, who, just minutes earlier, was appointed to serve on Columbia County Mental Health's Drug Free Community Coalition.

Councilors voted 6-1, with outgoing Council President Larry Meres opposed.

Meshell recommended doubling the proposed tax on the sale of marijuana and marijuana-infused products to 10 percent for medical marijuana card holders and 20 percent for those who purchase it recreationally.

The ordinance was introduced earlier this month as an opportunity for Scappoose to approve a tax before Oregon voters decide whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use. If voters approve Measure 91 in November, local cities would not be able to impose their own taxes after the law is changed.

Meshell suggested more revenue was needed from the potential sale of marijuana to use toward anti-drug programs and related law enforcement.

“I believe local drug problems require local solutions, and one of the ways that you prevent problems is by education,” Meshell said. “I don't think we have enough in here for the tax to properly educate our law enforcement and our schools and our communities …”

He emphasized the city could always lower its tax rate later, but would be prohibited from raising it if the ballot measure passes.

While dispensary owners have signaled their acceptance of a small city tax, some say the new amount is too much when coupled with taxes that would be levied by the state.

Gary Reynolds owns Sweet Relief, a dispensary in Astoria. He said the taxes are a deterrent to prospective marijuana businesses, which may have been the city's intent.

"Ten percent I think is a little high," Reynolds said. "I think their take on it is they might not want it there, so if it's that high, maybe they won't come in.”

Reynolds said he and his business partners had hoped to open a dispensary in Scappoose, if the law changed.

"We have to decide whether it will be worth it or not," Reynolds said. "It's needed ... I've got people driving from Scappoose, Clatskanie, for 70 miles there's no other place around."

Responding to requests by a dispensary businessman earlier this month for the city to consider taxing the goods based on upfront wholesale costs, City Manager Larry Lehman recommended against it.

“We cannot find a way to do that without losing an awful lot of revenue and also without a good way to check it,” Lehman said.

The council did not take public comment on the issue.

Both the city of Scappoose and Columbia County currently have moratoriums in place on medical marijuana dispensaries. To the east in Portland, more than 40 dispensaries are operating, according to weedmaps.com, an online directory of marijuana retailers. The state has approved more than 160 licensed dispensaries throughout Oregon, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

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