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Long Beach May Impose MMJ Tax

Medical marijuana dispensaries that do business in Long Beach could find themselves paying a new local tax.

Long Beach voters may be asked to decide next year whether they want to impose a 6 percent tax rate on medical pot shops, plus a minimum $1,000 business license tax. City Council Member Suja Lowenthal asked in December that City Attorney Charles Perkin prepare a ballot measure on the issue for April.

dispensary signThe city currently generates about $11 million a year in license fees from various businesses. There are 34 types of businesses in the city, and marijuana dispensaries aren’t yet counted among those.

“The upcoming . . . election presents the city with an opportunity to remedy a gap in the city’s business tax law, while obtaining badly needed general fund revenue,” said a recent memo prepared by city staff.

Lowenthal’s plan has also drawn support from Vice Mayor Robert Garcia and Council Member Al Austin.

Long Beach is working to accommodate legal pot shops, a process that has stalled in recent weeks. A large number of shops once called the city home, so many a lottery was introduced in 2009 to limit the number.

But a collective that wasn’t allowed to participate sued, and a judge invalidated the lottery ordinance, saying it conflicted with state law. That left city officials three choices: Try a new ordinance to regulate dispensaries, ban them all, or allow them all and look the other way.

Long Beach leaders chose the second approach, using zoning regulations and other rules to bar all dispensaries. That was city policy until this fall, when officials began reconsidering their approach and looking for new ways to allow dispensaries.

Now city staff is working with the council to find a solution that keeps patients supplied but doesn’t invite challenges by those in the MMJ community. A new tax could mean a heavier burden on dispensary owners, but it could also be a sign the city is taking this new attempt to allow pot shops seriously.

Long Beach is one of a number of communities in California rethinking its position on medical weed. Whereas most of the state’s municipalities have chosen to ban shops outright, something they’re allowed to do under a 2013 ruling by the California Supreme Court, a growing number, like Long Beach, are tossing aside those bans in favor of new regulations that allow dispensaries to operate legally.

About Matt Brooks

Based in San Francisco, Matt is a journalist who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than five years. He provides regular news coverage on marijuanaandthelaw.com and californiamarijuanamarket.com.

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