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Measure A — placed on the ballot in San Diego County by the Board of Supervisors — would impose taxes on cannabis businesses in unincorporated areas, purportedly generating $2.9 million to $5.6 million a year. Why purportedly? Because the county government could be on the verge of making the same mistake as the state government, which has a history of confidently offering cannabis tax revenue predictions that don’t come to pass.
This is due to poor follow-through on Proposition 64, the 2016 state ballot measure allowing the sale and recreational use of cannabis. Six years later, sales of illegal cannabis products — which are much cheaper because they are free of the taxes, fees and safety testing costs that can add up to 40 percent to the price of legal products — are believed to be triple those from legal dispensaries and delivery services. To try to boost legal sellers, earlier this year, the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom eliminated a cannabis cultivation tax and provided other types of tax relief. A much sounder first step would have been for the state government, in coordination with local law enforcement, to mount a massive crackdown on illegal storefront dispensaries and delivery services operating openly in so many communities.
While the District Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Department have a much better record of late in cracking down on illegal shops in their areas of jurisdiction, illegal sales remain a serious problem in the county. Until they are mostly eliminated, taxing legal sales is premature — if