Los Angeles has a homeless epidemic highlighted by downtown’s ‘skid row.’ Marijuana may soon help ease this epidemic.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to approve a ballot measure that would see medical marijuana tax proceeds go towards the homeless. This proposed tax would aid Los Angeles’ approved nearly $2 billion housing project to help cope with a 12% increase in homelessness the last two years.
The proposed tax would put a
“10% levy on the gross receipts of businesses that produce or distribute marijuana and related products.”
The tax would purportedly generate roughly $130 million a year in tax dollars that would directly go towards helping get the homeless of the streets and into treatment facilities and low-income housing. The measure’s approval needs a 2/3 vote in favor of the tax, so it’s definitely no sure thing.
Detractors of this proposal believe the measure will hurt patients since it will see dispensary prices rise. However, it’s hard to place a moral argument about using cannabis taxes to benefit the less fortunate.
Moreover, California’s upcoming legalization vote this fall truly holds the key to whether or not this tax even matters. The legal medical marijuana alone only would attribute $13 million a year in tax dollars–so legal marijuana would be the biggest donor to the cause.
The state will not be able to collect taxes on that pending legal industry till 2018.
In February, the City of Los Angeles approved a $2 billion housing project that would be completed over the next decade, and one of the funding options could be a 15 percent tax on medical marijuana.
Homelessness in Los Angeles has increased 12 percent in the last two years, with an estimated 254,000 people in need of housing, and local legislatures are under pressure to create solutions. Mayor Eric Garcetti even made an unsuccessful attempt to declare a citywide state of emergency in November 2015.
The City Council realizes that the $2 billion program will require new sources of tax revenue to fund the ambitious project. Chief Administrative Officer Miguel Santana told KPCC,
“Even as our economy improves, we do not anticipate to have an additional $1.78 billion over the next 10 years to dedicate for this purpose.”
City officials have narrowed down their list of possible tax options to cover the cost, but a medical marijuana tax would possibly bring in $17 million in revenue. If they decide in favor of a medical marijuana tax, it could be proposed to voters on the November ballot. Other cities in California that already tax medical marijuana include Riverside County, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs.
In order for a medical marijuana tax to be successful, the City Council needs to convince voters that this tax is the best way of funding the new housing project. Other options on their list include taxes on real estate sales and zoning taxes, which could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars, making a medical marijuana tax seem paltry by comparison.
There is also the issue of taxing medicine. California’s medical marijuana program, while notoriously flexible, does not include recreational use, and therefore the tax would be targeting patients rather than cannabis enthusiasts. The price increase could also mean that patients will buy from illegal sources in order to have access to affordable medical marijuana.
California already has plans to tax marijuana, should it become legal. The leading ballot initiative in California is the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which is expected to receive enough signatures to appear on the November ballot and has strong support from the governor’s office. The program outlines how recreational marijuana would be taxed, and how medical marijuana patients would be exempt from state taxes.
Those spending Christmas Eve without a home in Denver, Colorado this year were treated to a gift, that could only be given in a handful of states, with the intention of spreading cheer and raising awareness.
Nick Dicenzo, the founder of Cannabis Can, a Denver nonprofit organization, lead the group of volunteers to hand out one-thousand free pre-rolled joints to the homeless. Dicenzo explained that the intention of this “Cannamas” was to raise awareness about homelessness, and encourage people to donate to the Cannabis Can organization.
“You are not forgotten, you are appreciated, you are not alone.”
Is Cannabis Can’s slogan.
Cannabis Can volunteers grinding cannabis to be rolled into the joints given to the homeless.
The ultimate goal of Cannabis Can is to purchase several modified RV’s that will give those who are homeless a place to use the bathroom and shower. When asked what his response would be to those who don’t agree with what he is doing, Dicenzo said he would say,
“Merry Christmas, Happy Cannamas — would you like some rolling papers for tobacco?”
According to Colorado law, it is illegal to smoke marijuana in public, but it is legal to gift an adult up to one ounce of cannabis, so the joints were well within the legal limit. Those receiving the joints were required to be 21 years or older, and no cash exchange could take place.
Dicenzo handed out flyers and business cards with the joints, that contained information on where people can donate to the cause. He talked about the reason for saving up to purchase the RV’s for those in need,
“A lot of the people we spoke with really were just like, ‘if I had regular access to a shower, and a haircut my life would be so much better – I’d have so much more opportunity’.”
Dicenzo reported that not everyone accepted the joints, and explained that this gesture was about more than just giving away marijuana.
“‘Cannabis can make a difference,’ is kind of what we’re standing for.”
In a time that is meant to be filled with giving and good deeds, it is great to see cannabis being used to have a positive impact on the lives of those in need.
photo credit: Cannabis Can, The Denver Channel