State's $1.5M to enforce marijuana laws draws mixed reaction from local leaders
By Shaun Hall of the Daily Courier
Fearing a federal crackdown, state lawmakers last week dedicated $1.5 million a year to needy counties to enforce marijuana laws.
Josephine County Commissioner Dan DeYoung says that's not much. In fact, he called it an embarrassment.
"What a victory," he scoffed. "I would use the F-word here. One point five million is nothing."
It might pay for 10 deputies, he estimated. For the whole state.
Instead, DeYoung had hoped his own proposal, the Southern Oregon Marijuana Initiative, would have received support from legislators.
He estimated it would have brought several million dollars a year to the county, by taxing marijuana production.
It was supported by sheriffs from the region and county commissioners from around the state.
"It never went anywhere," he said. "It wasn't endorsed by our local legislators. They didn't even allow it to go to committee."
Rep. Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, was pleased with Senate Bill 1544, which reallocates tax revenue from the retail sale of marijuana. The bill awaits Gov. Kate Brown's signature.
"I think it's actually going to make a difference," he said.
Legislators acted out of fears of a possible federal crackdown on the state's young marijuana industry, according to Wilson, who suggested that DeYoung's proposal would not have received legislative approval.
"As much as we sympathize with the problem, you've got to find something that's going to pass at the legislative level," he said.
"I know the county commissioners have been trying to come up with something," he continued. "This (Senate Bill 1544) is something we could do with existing tax infrastructure."
Wilson said his fellow legislators were keen on the Senate bill in part because Oregon U.S. Attorney Billy Williams in January said at a marijuana summit in January that something should be done about black market sales of marijuana.
"Anytime you have a U.S. attorney saying, 'We're going to shut this thing down if you can't get this fixed,' it adds a whole bunch of impetus," Wilson said. "We had a whole lot of interest in this amendment."
At the summit, Wilson spoke up for the use of marijuana retail tax revenue to enforce marijuana laws.
"We're awash in marijuana tax revenue and not one dime of it is going to law enforcement," he said.
Instead, the revenue currently is directed to schools, state police, mental health programs and small amounts to cities and counties.
The $1.5 million in the Senate bill accounts for nearly 2 percent of annual marijuana retail tax revenue, which was $115 million last year, according to DeYoung.
Counties will have to apply for allocations from the Oregon Criminal Justice Commission in order to access the $1.5 million. Wilson felt the money would start to flow in 2020. He said the pot of money could grow in the future, if the justice commission supports it. The program would end after six years.
Rep. Duane Stark, R-Grants Pass, is on the commission.
"My guess is the Criminal Justice Commission is going to have a lot to say about this," Wilson said. "When they speak, people listen."
Reach reporter Shaun Hall at 541-474-3722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.