City pot tax: So what do voters know?

Fromleft: Mayor Konopa and Councilors Collins, Kopcynski and Olsen in a file shot from last spring.

On opposite sides of pot tax idea: Mayor Konopa and Councilors Collins, Olsen, Kopczynski and Coburn in a file shot from last spring.

Is there something in Oregon's plentiful water that is making city councils -- including four members of  Albany's -- want to seem tone deaf, or greedy, or contemptuous of voters, or any combination thereof?

Several cities around the state have proposed slapping a city sales tax on recreational marijuana in case voters legalize the weed in the general election by passing Ballot Measure 91. This is based on a belief -- not shared by competent lawyers or common-sense citizens -- that the marijuana initiative on the ballot does not mean what it says. What it says is that city and county taxes or fees on marijuana production or sales would not be allowed.

The cities seem to believe that, based on some notion of "home rule" for cities, they could exempt themselves from this flat prohibition against local pot taxes if they rush their tax ordinances into law before Nov. 4, Election Day. This is the case with the majority of the Albany council.

On Monday, Councilman Ray Kopczinsky proposed that an ordinance for a 10 percent Albany sales tax on recreational marijuana be removed from the agenda of the council's Wednesday (Oct. 22) meeting. Councilors Bill Coburn and Dick Olsen voted with him to drop this sales tax. But Floyd Collins, Bessie Johnson and Rich Kellum, along with Mayor Sharon Konopa breaking the 3-3 tie, voted to keep the tax idea alive and on the agenda. Collins reasoned that if the initiative passes, and if nearby cities have a marijuana tax in addition to the state tax and Albay doesn't, Albany would become Huib City for the pot trade, which nobody presumably wants.

It's not clear whether the initiative will pass. But if it does, it is clear that local taxes will not be allowed unless the courts completely ignore the plain letter of the law. (The home rule argument is too weak to believe. Even cities with home-rule charters don't usually get away with flouting state laws that specifically do NOT make exceptions for cities.)

The result of all this agitation for a sales tax on a commodity in case that commodity becomes legal: Councils that enact or pursue such a tax invite the obvious conclusion: That they don't give a damn what the voters decide. (hh)

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