Jefferson City Council to weigh bringing marijuana tax to voters

Whether voters will be asked in April to consider a citywide tax on recreational marijuana purchases could likely be decided Tuesday by the Jefferson City Council.

The meeting, usually held on Mondays, will be postponed a day on account of observing New Year's.

A bill slated for a council vote would, if approved, place a question on the spring municipal ballot, asking voters about approving a 3 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana. If approved, the citywide tax would only account for recreational products, not medical marijuana. The state taxes medical marijuana at 4 percent.

The bill was first read in council chambers during the Dec. 19 meeting. Some council members broached further questions or discussion points on the matter, one council member questioned whether a county that voted unfavorably for Amendment 3 would find a tax necessary.

In November, voters passed Amendment 3, legalizing recreational marijuana for people 21 years old or older, an amendment that also imposes a 6 percent state tax.

City Attorney Ryan Moehlman said Thursday from the viewpoint of staff, money received from any tax allows the city to recoup some costs related a surge in work for city personnel.

"We think it's appropriate, because some pretty new challenges are going to be placed on the city to help regulate and control the use of adult-use marijuana," Moehlman said.

Examples he cited were a potential increase to enforcement matters, such as "things like driving under the influence and a different regulatory scheme."

"Instead of it being illegal, it's just illegal for those people that are under the age of 21, so you have to address those types of enforcement," Moehlman said.

Staff must review rewriting some code to address regulating the use, possession, distribution or consumption of marijuana in public. Staff also has to review and potentially rework zoning regulations for businesses, he said: "Because (Amendment 3) allows cities to regulate businesses in a just a slightly different manner than general types of businesses."

Missouri Department of Senior and Health Services said it would administer approval for selling recreational marijuana consumers as early as sometime in February. It is currently only accepting applications for licensed medical marijuana dispensaries that want to apply to become a comprehensive facility, which, if approved, means selling medical and recreational marijuana.

Some council members asked for more information on whether surrounding municipalities will approach requesting a local tax on recreational use. Moehlman said he's planning on supplying council with more information before the meeting.

Councilman Scott Spencer asked why there was "such an urgency" to place the question on the April ballot when the amendment passed recently in November.

"I think first and foremost, there is a fairly good chance it is going to have an effect on municipal operations, particularly in the realm of policing," Moehlman said. "I think driving under the influence is going to become a problem that will need to be addressed."

Moehlman added it could be harder to pass a tax later on, after a buying market is familiar with a price point of a product.

"Our Cole County voted no on this, so we didn't want this to pass," Spencer said. "Is there time where we can educate and inform the public? Because that is a short window."

Moehlman said the next available election where the city wouldn't "bear the entire brunt" of election costs would be the April 2024 election.

"This being an off-year, there wouldn't be an August or November election, unless we call it ourselves, and that can be fairly expensive," he said.

According to the Cole County election summary, about 44 percent voted in favor of Amendment 3 and 56 percent voted against it.

See also:

Staff explores how it can regulate recreational marijuana in city


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