The Oakland City Council is poised to put a new cannabis tax on the ballot that would give the council leverage to decide the final tax-rate, but the council can’t vote until Monday on Council Member Rebecca Kaplan’s last-minute proposal.

While many in the city are eager to see more money flowing into the city coffers, not everyone at the Thursday meeting liked the idea of the city taxing pot.

“You guys are turning into drug dealing tax mongers,” an angry James Archibald told the council before leaving the council chambers nearly twenty minutes before the council began its debate.

After a fairly swift discussion that drew only a small fraction of the people who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, Kaplan attempted to make a motion to put a ballot measure on the November 2 general election that would establish a 10-percent gross receipts tax on recreational non-medical marijuana businesses, assuming voters also legalize marijuana. The measure would also give council the latitude to tax dispensaries at a rate of up to 2.5-percent and tax licensed grow operations as much as 8-percent.

It’s unclear how much money Kaplan’s proposal would bring in each year as it is radically different from the eight to 12 percent the council planned to consider before industry criticism prompted her to restructure the tax.

But no matter the tax-rate, any additional cost will get passed on to the patients who rely on their medicine being affordable, warned many of the people who spoke at the meeting.

“Things that everybody takes for granted are very important to me, and I wouldn’t be able to chew without cannabis,” said Angel Raich, whose use of cannabis to treat numerous serious medical conditions, including a brain tumor, was the center of a U.S. Supreme Court Case. “Having an adult-use tax is really important. … They don’t need to depend on it, and they can work as much as they want.”

But because the council didn’t announce that they would consider a tax on recreational pot, the city attorney cautioned that a vote would be nothing more than a straw poll.

While some of the council members appeared to support Kaplan’s proposal, it wasn’t clear that she had the votes needed to carry the motion.

Neither council members Larry Reid or Desley Brooks seemed to think that marijuana growers should pay a higher tax than dispensaries. And Council Member Ignacio De La Fuentes made an earlier motion to propose a significantly higher tax rate than Kaplan suggested.

Kaplan and several other council members seemed amenable to the idea of getting a formal read on where the council stood with her proposal, but Council President Jane Brunner wasn’t having it.

“We’re not doing a straw poll,” she insisted. She said the council had never done a straw poll before and it wasn’t going to start now.

Brunner lost her cool earlier in the meeting when she incorrectly assumed that patients don’t pay sales tax on their marijuana at the city’s dispensaries.

Dismayed laughter erupted throughout the room.

“Don’t laugh at me,” Brunner erupted at the audience. “I don’t laugh at you.”

The council will vote Monday on what tax proposal the voters will see in November.

See Oakland Local's coverage of the marijuana business here.

About The Author

Susan Mernit is editor & publisher of Oakland Local (oaklandlocal.com) a news & community hub for Oakland, CA. A former VP at AOL & Netscape, & former! Yahoo Senior Director, Mernit was consulting program manager for The Knight News Challenge, 2008-09; was a 2012 Stanford Carlos McClatchy Fellow; and is a board adviser to The Center for Health Reporting at USC, Annenberg School of Journalism. She has consulted with many non-profit organizations on strategy, product development and social media/engagement, including Salon.com, TechSoup Global, Public Radio International and the Institute for Policy Studies/Economic Hardship Reporting Project, led by Barbara Ehrenreich.