Berkeley Wants 10-Percent Cut If Pot Goes Mainstream

By Joe Rosato Jr.
|  Tuesday, Jul 13, 2010  |  Updated 5:00 PM PDT
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SEATTLE - AUGUST 21: An older woman smokes a marijuana joint at Seattle's Hempfest on August 21, 2004. More than 150,000 people were expected to attend Hempfest at Seattle's Myrtle Edwards Park on Seattle's waterfront on August 21-22, 2004. The event is billed as the world's largest drug-policy reform rally. Events included political speakers and dozens of bands and performers on six stages and over 20 organizations were present registering new voters. (Photo by Ron Wurzer/Getty Images)

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In a small white room above the Berkeley’s Patient’s Group marijuana dispensary, three men in spotless white lab coats and masks toil over bins of marijuana. One uses a high-powered video camera to scan the potent buds for hair, mold, bugs and any other detritus. 

The men quietly scoop buds with names like Cali Gold and All-star Jack Frost into labeled bags for sale in the downstairs dispensary.

"We definitely have all the sanitary stuff going on," said sorter Mark Silva. "The gloves and the masks and the lab coats."

This scene is far from the image of camouflaged growers with automatic rifles guarding illegal marijuana crops in Northern California forests.  If anything it’s another reminder that marijuana hasn’t just kicked down the door of mainstream acceptance, it’s pulled up a seat at the table and kicked up its feet.

"Definitely, opinions are changing," said Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates.  

  As a sign of that change, cities like Berkeley are now looking at taxing medicinal and recreational pot in the event Proposition 19 passes on California’s November Ballot. The measure would legalize recreational marijuana and tax it.

"If 19 passes in November it’s going to be a whole different ball game," said Bates. "We’ll have to go back and figure out how we’re going to regulate it, how we’re going to sell it, how we’re going to allow it to be embraced."

In the meantime, Berkeley’s City Council was meeting Tuesday night to consider levying its own marijuana tax. The measure would add a 10 percent tax on gross receipts of recreational marijuana and up to 2.5 percent on medical marijuana. If passed by the city council, it will appear on the city’s November ballot.

The measure would also expand the city’s pot clubs from three to four, and allow up to ten new marijuana cultivation operations in the city.

While the city’s marijuana clubs generally support the measure, they think the tax on medical cannabis is too high. 

"No medication should be taxed," said Brad Senesac, Communications Director of the Berkeley Patients Group. "If you were to look at this, medicinal cannabis is supposed to be a true medicine. It really shouldn’t be taxed."

Mayor Tom Bates concedes the tax will only generate about $350 thousand dollars a year, a mere drop in the bucket for Berkeley. But he said the city will at least be prepared if Prop 19 passes.

"This would mean that we move forward asking the voters of Berkeley to change what we currently have now," said Bates.

And if the white-smocked lab techs bundling up potent bundles of All-star Jack Frost are any indication, what was once a sordid backroom affair, is about to become a full-blown civic love fest.

    
 

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