Southern California

Hemet voters to decide on marijuana measure in November

Voters throughout the region will decide in November on issues surrounding marijuana-based businesses in their city.

The latest to reach the ballot is a measure in Hemet that would tax cannabis businesses while keeping the city’s no-marijuana moratorium in place until 2021.

Placing the initiative on the ballot was approved in a 4-0 vote to counterbalance a citizen-backed initiative that would allow pot businesses. Councilwoman Karlee Meyer was absent.

If both measures pass, whichever gets the most votes will be enacted.

The cities of Moreno Valley and Banning also will have marijuana initiatives on the November ballot. Perris and San Jacinto, which have already approved pot businesses, are looking to refine their ordinances.

The measures come two years after California voters legalized the recreational use of marijuana. While pot smoking was decriminalized, as well as the use of marijuana in other products, the measure gave a lot of autonomy to cities and many have struggled with how much, or little, they should allow.

While some cities in the Coachella Valley have seen large revenue increases from cannabis businesses, others are still looking for their footing.

San Jacinto voters approved local marijuana businesses and taxes on the same ballot that the statewide initiative passed, but there are still no legal marijuana-based businesses operating in the city.

Hemet leaders indicated that they favor keeping the city’s moratorium in place. A lot of that is financially driven.

“We don’t think the city can afford to gear up for the cannabis measures,” City Manager Allen Parker said.

Oversight and licensing will be expensive, he said.

While the revenue that could come in from marijuana businesses could be substantial — an estimated $3.5 million annually — it will be a couple years before the city sees any money, Parker said. In the meantime, additional police and code enforcement officers and other staff would have to be hired to administer the businesses.

“We’re going to be on the hook for this, all the taxpayers are going to be on the hook for it, even those who are against marijuana,” Mayor Michael Perciful said. “It’s going to cost the city a considerable about of money that we don’t have in the budget currently.”

None of that would matter if voters approve the citizen initiative.

“Whether you’re against it or support it, No. 1 is that we protect everyone,” Councilwoman Bonnie Wright said. “We still have to be cognizant of how we protect, how we serve and do right by our citizens.”

The city’s initiative would tax dispensaries 15 percent of gross receipts, manufacturing businesses would pay 25 percent of gross receipts and cultivation businesses would pay $30 per square foot of cultivation space annually.

The citizen’s initiative would allow non-retail cannabis businesses in manufacturing zones, taxing them $10 per square foot of space.

A second citizen-backed proposed initiative did not qualify for the ballot.

The council considered placing a measure on the ballot that would allow cannabis businesses to open and be taxed but members decided it was too late to craft such an ordinance, with Friday, Aug. 10, being the deadline to qualify for a November vote.

“To do something like this, we have to have time,” Councilwoman Linda Krupa said.

Russ Brown said he favored waiting, especially since the cannabis industry is ever changing.

“Who knows what the landscape will be from a legal perspective one year from now or two years from now,” he said.