Discussions over the future of marijuana use, cultivation and sales in Santa Barbara County demonstrate a major problem of government — whose rules apply?
It’s not just a local issue. The marijuana debate is nationwide. One state legalizes recreational use, but in neighboring states it’s illegal. In some regions possession of even relatively small amounts of marijuana is a felony.
Similar disparities are apparent in Santa Barbara County, but on a compressed scale. Santa Maria’s City Council voted to keep the marijuana trade outside city limits. The Lompoc City Council voted to embrace marijuana’s newly-legalized uses and sales paradigm, focusing on the commercial and revenue benefits.
In fact, local jurisdictions have some wiggle room when it comes to fully legitimizing marijuana growing, sales and personal use — which means folks passing through a county or city in California can’t really be certain about local rules.
This patchwork approach to public policy is both confusing and discouraging. Is America so big and diverse that it has become fundamentally ungovernable?
The tentative answer to that question could be — maybe. And that’s based in large part on voters.
For example, California voters approved Proposition 64 legalizing personal use of marijuana on the ballot last November, but it wasn’t exactly a landslide victory for marijuana. The final tally, 57 percent in favor and 43 percent opposed. That’s a fairly easy win in political terms, but it demonstrates that many Californians either oppose or have serious misgivings about marijuana sales and use.
Those same ideological, intellectual and/or moral misgivings are much in evidence locally. Most public meetings at which legal marijuana policies are discussed result in a packed meeting room, and the discussion sometimes gets heated.
Taking a leap from local to national politics, you see the same kinds of disagreements. Many in Congress are lobbying for federal legislation to legalize marijuana growing, sales and personal use — at the same time the U.S. Justice Department, under Sec. Jeff Sessions, has launched an anti-marijuana crusade.
New polling this past week indicates that more than 60 percent of Americans believe the next logical step is for the federal government to decriminalize marijuana use.
Washington-style policy chaos does not add to the overall conversation. But it does drive a bigger wedge between ideological factions across the country, a growing trend in the administration of President Trump.
Meanwhile, back here at home, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors has been debating how to establish tax rates for marijuana businesses, which to us seems like a logical course of action, given that marijuana is now — by a vote of the people — legal. The real question now is how to regulate such an industry, not whether it should be allowed to exist.
The board has decided on certain marijuana tax categories, which must ultimately be approved by county voters. The board will likely decide on a future ballot date at its first meeting next month.
One thing board members and voters should keep in mind is there is no logical reason to tax marijuana businesses any differently than other commercial operations are currently being taxed. The Board of Supervisors’ discussion has, at times, seemed a demonstration of trying to fit pieces into a difficult puzzle. In reality, this should be about making the best public policy, while striving not to single out certain businesses because they are in some way different, because from a taxation perspective, they are not different.
It would help policy makers at all levels, immensely, if the federal government would standardize the rules on marijuana.