Taxes are Phil Ting's business -- when the assessor-recorder isn't campaigning for San Francisco mayor, that is. But when Ting recently took stock of the Bay Area tax scene on medical marijuana, he realized that San Francisco could be bringing in more cash.
Every other major Bay Area city levies a gross-receipts tax on its medical marijuana dispensaries. And while every California medical cannabis club pays 9.5 percent in state sales taxes -- it's only in cities with a special tax including Los Angeles and San Jose, where local officials skim an extra five and seven percent off of the top.
And this is certainly paying off: San Jose hauled in $290,000 in its first month of taxing medical marijuana and Los Angeles is banking on exceeding that.
And that's way more than what S.F. is pulling in from medical marijuana.
Not only is San Francisco not getting any of this extra pot money, nobody's have even talked about doing a similar tax here. But Ting, being a numbers guys, didn't even have to do any math to realize that this kind of tax could help the city's $300 million budget deficit in a big way.
"On these types of issues, San Francisco tends to lead, and in this instance, we're way behind," says Ting, who said he's not officially backing a tax at this time. "It's a bit controversial, but we want to think out-of-the-box in these tough budget times."
This kind of tax would have to be approved by the voters. And you can bet it would stir up a hornet's nest of opposition among medical marijuana providers and patients who say a special pot tax is like robbing Peter to pay Paul's pension.
"The response will be overwhelmingly negative," says David Goldman, a patient advocate who sits on the city's Medical Cannabis Task Force.
In other words, what is Ting smoking?
Pot clubs are run as nonprofits, Goldman noted, so any increase in the cost of business must be passed onto customers: medical cannabis patients. "I hope you explain to your readers that all dispensaries would have to raise patients' prices -- it's a tax on patients. It punishes the people who have to pay for medicine, that's all it is. It's just an outrage."
An outrage that nonetheless won nearly 60 percent of the vote in Los Angeles -- and if communities like that could be swayed, perhaps San Francisco could, too.
"At least we can have an honest dialogue," says Ting. "And since other folks have done this in other cities, we can flesh out some of the issues and see how those cities have done it."
As for the already brewing opposition? "I don't think this is a sacred cow," Ting says. "At least, I hope it's not a sacred cow."
But Goldman is calling Ting out on his uncommitted position. "If he didn't think it was a good idea, he wouldn't be bringing it up," he says. "[Medical cannabis] patients are a politically vulnerable minority, and we're being asked to help bail out the city in a time of economic crisis."
What a buzz kill that Ting is.
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