Clatsop County voters may have the option in November to place a tax on retail marijuana sales.
County commissioners will hold the first reading Wednesday of an ordinance that would impose a 3 percent tax on sales. Staff estimates the tax, applied to three dispensaries outside city limits, would generate $50,000 in revenue annually.
County Manager Cameron Moore likened the social costs of legal marijuana to substances like alcohol and tobacco, which often have “sin taxes” applied to them. The revenue could go toward public health and safety services.
When Oregon voters legalized recreational marijuana sales in 2014, the state imposed a 17 percent sales tax and gave cities and counties the option to add an additional 3 percent if approved by voters. The county considered the tax in 2016, but no recreational dispensaries existed outside city limits at the time.
The affected dispensaries are located on U.S. Highways 26 and 30, meaning a large portion of customers are passers-by, said Nick Clark, owner of Nature’s Choice in Westport. Most cities and counties in the state have similar taxes.
“They’re not coming from out of the area for 3 percent savings,” Clark said.
The 14 licensed marijuana retailers in the county — 11 of which are located in Astoria, Seaside and Cannon Beach — sold more than $8 million in products last year, part of a $520 million statewide haul.
While the taxes are fair, they can sometimes give black-market dealers an unfair advantage, said Don Morse, director of the Oregon Cannabis Business Council.
“Right out of the gate, we have 20 percent more in expenses while the guy on the black market does not,” Morse said. But, “I think the taxes in this case are put to good use. If you’re going to tax, at least it’s for the right purpose.”
If Wednesday’s hearing is continued, a second hearing would be held at a future meeting. Commissioners may then place the potential ordinance on the November ballot. If approved, he taxes would be effective 30 days after the election.