Counties disagree on taxing cannabis for law enforcement

Cannabis plant (News 10)

Josephine County Commissioner Dan DeYoung is making his rounds to different Oregon counties, advocating for a new bill to tax cannabis grows, but meeting some resistance.

Oregon House Bill 2382 would allow counties to tax cannabis growing operations exclusively to fund law enforcement, which Commissioner DeYoung says could be the solution to years of persistent funding issues.

"I can't go another year without doing something," Commissioner Dan DeYoung said at a meeting Thursday with his Jackson County counterparts.

Josephine County has struggled with adequate law enforcement staffing since layoffs in 2012. Commissioner DeYoung has been trying to rally other Oregon counties around the idea, saying the bill could also aid in bolstering law enforcement elsewhere.

"The money's there, it's just not doing us any good in southern Oregon," DeYoung said, adding that illegal cannabis grows put a strain on any existing law enforcement shortages and challenges.

However, when pitched the idea and asked for support, the Jackson County commissioners declined to get on board, citing potential repercussions for legal growers.

"This could basically break the back of some of the legal growers," Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer said, "and at that point, it either forces them into the illegal market or out of our county."

Some working in the industry echo those concerns.

"Why would you want to hurt the one industry that gives you some degree of prosperity? I just don't understand that," said Mark Seligman, who has lived in Josephine County for 23 years.

Seligman says he believes the county has benefited greatly from the industry, noting that it's not just the growers, but all the other jobs connected to them, like his job as a tractor driver.

He worries that added tax burdens could stop the county from being a national leader in what it's good at, particularly if nationwide legalization is in the country's future.

However, Commissioner DeYoung said that whether or not the bill passes, he'll push on.

"If this opens up the channels for further discussion up in Salem, I'm in. We will win any way this thing goes," DeYoung said.

Coos, Curry, and Josephine counties have all indicated their support for the bill, but it's up to lawmakers in Salem to pass it, and then voters to enact it in their counties.

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