County should consider banking issues before moving forward with cannabis ordinance

According to the Lassen County Clerk’s website, county voters narrowly approved Measure M, the cannabis business tax. According to the final results, Measure M garnered 4,691 yes votes (52.86 percent) and 4,183 no votes (47.14 percent).

The language of Measure M, and the decision before the voters, was seemingly simple and straightforward — “Shall an ordinance be adopted imposing a Cannabis Business Tax of up to $3 per square foot of canopy space, per year for cultivators, and up to 8 percent on gross receipts of all other cannabis businesses operating in the unincorporated areas of Lassen County, with funds staying in the county general fund for unrestricted general revenue purposes.”

Measure M’s proponents argued the measure authorized the creation of a taxing mechanism ordinance should the county board of supervisors decide to pass an ordinance allowing commercial cannabis activities — cultivation and distribution — within the county. Currently no commercial cannabis activities are allowed in the county or in the city of Susanville, but residents may grow medical marijuana if they meet certain requirements.

Measure M’s opponents argued the measure did more than simply authorize a tax on cannabis activities. They argued instead it threw the doors wide open to growers and made Lassen County a destination for illegal farmers.

Several elected officials — including Dean Growdon, the Lassen County Sheriff, Patty Gunderson, the Lassen County Superintendent of Schools and Nancy Cardenas, Lassen County Treasurer/Tax Collector opposed Measure M, as did Lassen County Supervisor candidate Kerri Cobb.

Feeling threatened by the possible repercussions from Measure M’s passage should the county mingle cannabis tax money with the county’s funds, Gunderson said she would pull the office of education’s money out of the county’s bank account to keep it safe from being seized by the federal government, Cardenas warned she feared she could be charged with money laundering and Cobb, with years experience as a bank manager, said those who handle the cannabis money could be violating federal law, creating all sorts of problems with the federal government for local banks.

Some in favor of Measure M considered these concerns little more than hyperbolic paranoia. Turns out, according to a feasibility study completed late last year by the Cannabis Banking Working Group, California State Treasurer John Chiang said, “the inconvenient reality that a definitive solution” to the banking issues surrounding cannabis will “remain elusive until the federal government takes action — they must either remove cannabis from its official list of banned narcotics or approve safe harbor legislation that protects banks serving cannabis businesses from prosecution. Red, blue and purple states — 33 so far — have legalized the adult use of recreational or medicinal cannabis. So it’s finally time that the slow, clunky machinery of the federal government work in a bipartisan fashion to change federal law and reflect the values and growing consensus of the people it serves.”

Now no one knows how or when “the slow, clunky machinery” will move, so it would be both prudent and wise for the county and the city of Susanville to err on the side of caution and continue to ban commercial cannabis activities until the feds finally resolve this cannabis banking issue.