While San Jose rakes in $10 million-plus a year in tax revenue from cannabis and a host of nearby cities consider hewing to the will of the electorate by legalizing the industry, Santa Clara County is leaning in the opposite direction.
The Board of Supervisors this week voted 3-2—with Cindy Chavez, Joe Simitian and Mike Wasserman in the majority—to have the administration draft a plan to permanently outlaw marijuana cultivation in unincorporated parts of the South Bay. Supervisors Ken Yeager and Dave Cortese cast the two opposing votes, arguing that prohibition is an ineffective way to deal with illegal grows.
By not regulating pot, the county loses out on sales tax that could help combat black-market cultivation and preserve farmland for other crops, Cortese told his colleagues at Tuesday’s board meeting. In the first quarter of 2018, the state raked in $33.6 million in cultivation and excise taxes from the newly expanded legal market, he pointed out.
County leaders have responded to statewide legalization by doubling down on its police response. In January, when California officially authorized legal sales to anyone over the age of 21, the board of supervisors voted to spend $800,000 to double the size of the Sheriff’s Office marijuana eradication team by adding three additional officers and buying new equipment.
Sean Kali-Rai, head of the Silicon Valley Cannabis Alliance, said the county’s missing a chance to generate revenue that could support its safety net services.
“Until you get more legal places to sell and grow, then you’re contributing to the black market,” he said. “You could create jobs, you could use some of that agricultural land and you could spend the tax money on healthcare.”
Though marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the state sanctions commercial and medical use and the legislature is considering a number of additional cannabis-related laws. The county board plans to vote on a permanent prohibition at their Aug. 28 meeting, just before the county’s moratorium on pot grows is set to expire.