The Grant County Court tried to make good on public assurances that a 3 percent tax on recreational marijuana would be implemented if voters overturned a ban on marijuana businesses.
But the tax ordinance approved by the court following a Dec. 19 public hearing may not be legally binding. The ordinance was unanimously passed as an emergency ordinance, with the intent that it would be in effect that same day.
State law, however, states that a local tax on recreational marijuana must go to the voters, according to Joy Krawczyk, a spokesperson at the Oregon Department of Revenue.
“Under Oregon Revised Statute 475B.491(3), city or county governing bodies that adopt ordinances related to recreational marijuana taxes or fees ‘shall refer the measure of the ordinance to electors of the city or county for approval at the next statewide general election,’” she told the Eagle.
“I’m not sure how it works with an ‘emergency ordinance,’” Krawczyk added.
The Grant County Court used a 2016 ordinance from Columbia County as the model for its recreational marijuana tax ordinance, but the Grant County ordinance didn’t include a section from the Columbia County ordinance on the referral and effective date.
That section states, “This ordinance shall be referred to the voters of Columbia County for approval at the statewide general election on Nov. 8, 2016. If passed, this ordinance shall become effective on Jan. 1, 2017.”
The Grant County ordinance instead ends with an emergency clause that states “this ordinance and the provision herein are deemed necessary to facilitate land use actions” and “an emergency is hereby declared to exist and this ordinance shall be in full force and effect on the from the [sic] date of approval by the County Court.”
The emergency clause for the tax ordinance is nearly identical to the emergency clause contained in the ordinance approved Sept. 26 that established land-use regulations for recreational marijuana businesses.
The Grant County ordinance may also violate a state law requiring all tax-related ordinances to be referred to voters and a law prohibiting tax-related ordinances from being passed in a single meeting as an emergency.
The county court currently is transitioning its county counsel services from Roseburg attorney Ron Yockim to Grant County District Attorney Jim Carpenter. The Eagle asked Carpenter if county counsel had reviewed the tax ordinance and whether state law had changed to allow a marijuana tax to be established without voter approval.
“This is an issue that we need to work through to determine whether the ordinance was properly passed and what the county’s options are moving forward,” Carpenter told the Eagle. “Once this has been done, the county will be able to provide you with a better answer.”
The ban imposed on recreational marijuana businesses in Grant County was put in place by the county court in 2015. Voters overturned the ban in May 2018 after a previous attempt in 2016 was unsuccessful.