Californians may have voted no to Prop 19 and the legalization of marijuana, but the people of San Jose voted to tax marijuana anyways—or at least whatever marijuana can be sold legally in the city. Prop 19 would not only have allowed for legalization but would have also allowed the state to generate revenue from a marijuana tax. Proponents of the ballot measure claim that this would have added at least $1.5 billion to the state’s coffers. Measure U, which allows for a sales tax on medical marijuana sold in San Jose, could step in to fill the void.

The precise amount of the new tax will only be determined after City Council holds a study session on the matter on December 13. Councilmember Pierluigi Oliverio, an advocate of the tax, envisions it being as high as 10 percent, and argues that this would be bring in tens of millions of dollars in revenue to the cash strapped city. ““This is the only type of tax that would pass in this environment,” he says. “We tax alcohol, we tax cigarettes … this would fall into the same category.”

Not everyone agrees, however. Americans for Safe Access, for instance, which promotes “safe access and legal access to medical marijuana for therapeutic uses and research,” responds that if the tax is too high, people will turn to the black market, instead of licensed dealers, to obtain their pot. They also note that the only marijuana that would be taxed now is used for medical purposes, and “It is wrong and immoral to tax the sick and suffering.” Ellen Young, another medical marijuana advocate, points out that the tax would be imposed on top of the 9.25 percent sales on marijuana, making the cost unbearable for many users: “They’re treating it as though it’s a criminal enterprise,” she says. This concern is echoed by an editorial in the Merc, which says that “Any tax on medicine, including marijuana, is unconscionable.” Nevertheless, that article appeared in response to an October 14 endorsement of the Measure by the newspaper.

Measure U as it appeared on the ballot said that revenues from a marijuana tax would be used to pay for “essential City services such as police, fire, emergency response, street maintenance, pothole repair,” and other essential city services. With the city facing hundreds of millions in deficits in the next fiscal year, it may have no choice but to take the voters’ lead and impose the tax.
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