CA: Simi Council Hires Cannabis Consultant To Advise It On Possible Pot Tax Ballot Measure

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The Simi Valley City Council, which has thus far taken a very conservative position on marijuana, this week hired a cannabis consultant to advise it on a possible marijuana tax ballot measure in November and possible liberalization of some of its pot stances.

The council on Monday night unanimously voted to retain a consultant from the cannabis division of the Los Angeles County-based HdL Companies, which has advised other cities in Ventura County, including Thousand Oaks. The cost of the consultant’s services will be about $10,000.

The council hired the adviser at the recommendation of its staff. Exactly who the individual consultant will be is still being worked out by the city and HdL, said Deputy City Manager Samantha Argabrite.

“It is recommended that the City Council approve staff’s request to engage the services of a cannabis consultant … if the City Council desires to move forward in evaluating the potential taxation of marijuana … (and) before the City Council makes any decisions related to a ballot measure, tax rates, testing facilities and deliveries,” a staff report stated.

The city Planning Commission has recommended the council consider possible Municipal Code amendments to allow cannabis testing laboratories in the city’s general industrial zoning district and deliveries of medical cannabis by state-licensed delivery services located outside the city to residents in the city, according to the report.

Such labs and deliveries are currently banned.

City staff made the recommendation to hire the consultant “based on the complexities and ever-changing landscape of cannabis law,” stated the report from Argabrite and Interim Environmental Services Director Ted Drago. A consultant “can bring their extensive statewide and regional knowledge of the topic to ensure that the City Council has the most information to make well-informed decisions on this critical topic … (and) maximize the (possible tax) revenues collected.”

The state imposes a cannabis cultivation tax, an excise tax and sales tax on non-medical cannabis sales, the report notes. State laws allow city or county governments to impose a gross receipts tax on non-medical commercial cannabis uses and services, according to the report.

But the council has also prohibited those uses and services.

The staff report noted that if the council places a cannabis tax measure on the city’s November ballot, the council “is not committing the city to allow any non-medical or medical commercial cannabis uses or services. Should the City Council determine in the future to allow for non-medical commercial cultivation uses or services, a tax would be in place and there would be no delay in collecting revenue.”

Fillmore voters in 2016 made that city the first locally to approve a tax on the sales and commercial cultivation of marijuana, but the City Council decided in 2017 to ban all commercial marijuana activity.

The Simi Valley council made it clear in late October that it wanted to take a “go slow” approach to California Proposition 64, which in November 2016 legalized marijuana use statewide for persons 21 years or older.

The council on Oct. 30 unanimously passed an urgency ordinance that temporarily extended a marijuana ban the council adopted in late 2016 and was due to expire Dec. 3. The council also introduced a non-urgency ordinance to more permanently extend the ban. It was adopted at the council’s Nov. 13 meeting.

The ordinance leaves in place prohibitions of:

•Outdoor cultivation of marijuana plants at residences.

•Marijuana deliveries to and from locations in the city.

•Commercial non-medical marijuana activities.

•Smoking and ingesting marijuana in public places.

All those activities except consuming marijuana in public, are permitted under Proposition 64 but can be banned by cities.

Simi Valley’s ban does not restrict the personal indoor use of marijuana or the indoor cultivation of up to six marijuana plants, which the proposition allows and which local jurisdictions cannot prohibit.

Under California Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, cities also cannot prohibit residents from using medical marijuana if they have a serious health condition and a physician’s recommendation.

Council members said Monday night they agreed they should get the opinion of a consultant well-versed in marijuana issues before voting on whether to put a tax measure on the ballot or making decisions on testing labs or deliveries of medical cannabis.

“We don’t want to step up before we hire a consultant and say, ‘Let’s put something on the ballot,’ because a consultant may say that’s the wrong way to go,” Councilman Keith Mashburn said.

Councilman Mike Judge cited another reason for hiring a consultant.

“There are lawsuits pending right now in the state … against cities that are refusing to allow dispensaries,” he said. “I’m not saying those lawsuits have any weight … but I want to avoid unnecessary litigation.

“I’m not saying … we need to put any stores up or anything like that, but we just need to be prepared and ready to go in case that litigation does end up gaining traction and coming toward us,” Judge said.

Some other Ventura County cities, particularly Port Hueneme, are taking a more liberal approach to marijuana.

In January, Port Hueneme became the first city in the county to allow recreational and commercial marijuana. The city has licensed medical marijuana dispensaries and allows operations including testing, product manufacturing and deliveries if they’re from a city-licensed operator.